One of the sweetest gifts I ever received was a slim paperback volume by May Sarton – The Fur Person. If you haven’t read it, it’s the endearing story of the stray cat (Mr. Tom Jones) who adopted Sarton. As he insinuates himself into the household and truly makes a home there, he transforms from Cat-About-Town to Gentleman Cat to, finally, Fur Person.
Fur Person. I love that name. Simple, yet it perfectly describes the bond between humans and animals. No matter if it’s cat or dog, horse or rabbit, bird or hamster, we imagine that our pets take on some of our own characteristics, and we theirs.
Of course, companion animals give us so much, not the least of which is unconditional love and affection. They also remind us (sometimes demand from us) that we need to make time to play. They’re goofy and they make us laugh. Some even provide warmth on a long, cold night. In fact, many studies have noted the link between animals and stress reduction, healing, and increased physical and emotional wellness.
So this week, as I say goodbye to my devoted buddy Leo, a charming, quirky, lovable, funny little Fur Person if ever there was one, I can’t think of anything I’d like better than to share with you the final passage from May Sarton’s book. Here it is:
For the Fur Person might still be the ineffable Mr. Jones walking down the street, but he was also an anxious tender personality who followed the two Voices up and down the stairs and round the house, begging for a lap. The Tenth Commandment stated coldly that one had to choose a housekeeper with extreme caution. It said nothing about what happens if and when the housekeeper becomes a true friend, to be trusted in sickness and in health, to be followed from house to house, repaid for the trouble she takes in providing excellent meals with songs and purrs, and in general properly provided with catly attentions. But of course the Eleventh Commandment would have to deal primarily with love.
It is all in the name “Fur Person,” he decided then–not really a name at all, but a way of describing a Gentle Cat and his true friends among the human people. For a Fur Person, he saw in his state of extreme concentration, is not just an ordinary cat. He is a cat who is also a person. And Tom Jones realized that he had called himself the Fur Person when he did not really know what a Fur Person is. For a Fur Person is a cat whom human beings love in the right way, allowing him to keep his dignity, his reserve and his freedom. And a Fur Person is a cat who has come to love, one, or, in very exceptional cases, two human beings, and who has decided to stay with them as long as he lives. This can only happen if the human being has imagined part of himself into a cat (Tom Jones had noticed that Brusque Voice sometimes tried to purr) just as the cat has imagined part of himself into a human being. It is a mutual exchange. A Fur Person must be adopted by catly humans, tactful, delicate, respectful, indulgent; these are fairly rare, though not as rare as might be supposed. So thought Tom Jones, and it was the end of such a long think that he was quite exhausted, the Eleventh Commandment must go something like this: A Gentleman Cat becomes a Fur Person when he is truly loved by a human being.
It was not exactly a commandment, he realized, but it would have to do, for he was suddenly very sleepy.
Here’s to all the Fur Persons in our lives, past and present. Although their time here is limited, their gifts are immeasurable.