On June 7th, 1969, The Johnny Cash Show made its debut on ABC at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Featuring Cash ensemble regulars June Carter, the Carter family, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Tennessee Three, his choice of musical guests for his debut program were Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw. And I was there, along with Rusty Jernigan, Tricia Jernigan, Art Mulkey and Shannon Nelson.

If we’re going to demand that all our children be vaccinated for the well-being of the community-at-large, should we not then demand that everyone–man, woman and child–become vegans? After all, the production of meat and dairy products contributes significantly to global warming which may ultimately lead to the extinction of the entire human species. Furthermore the considerable amount of grain used in meat and dairy production, if shifted to human consumption, could alleviate hunger, malnutrition and starvation throughout the world.

My real point is this: Citing concern for the well-being of their community, a lot of folks have demonized parents who have concerns about vaccinations (some of whom have chosen not to vaccinate their children). Of course, it’s always easier to point the finger at someone else, but might not those doing the judging first acknowledge their own harmful actions, actions that severely impact the world community, before passing judgment? Judge not lest you be judged to paraphrase a book that was pretty popular at one time.

I have lived with several Zen masters—all of them cats.
—Eckhart Tolle

In 1999, a few months after Shonnie and I were married, I got a mid-day call from her at her office at the Mission Hospital marketing department in Asheville, North Carolina. I was putting the finishing touches on a client’s marketing plan at our home office in a little four-plex nestled in the woods just off Merrimon Avenue.

I answered the phone and Shonnie excitedly said, “Merrell brought in two abandoned kittens this morning, and they need a home. Can we keep them?”

“We’ve got three cats already,” I replied. “I really don’t think we need any more.”

“Please? They’re so adorable. Won’t you just come look at them?” Shonnie asked.

“Well, I guess we could consider one,” I said.  “Just let me get to a stopping point, and I’ll drop by.”

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

A half hour later I drove the four or so miles to the squat one-story building that housed Mission’s marketing offices. Upon entering I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of Shonnie’s fellow staff members and walked into Shonnie’s office. There on her desk were two very furry little kittens—both male, one black and white, one tabby—alternately grooming one another, wrestling and playing chase.

I took in the scene on the desk, smiled at Shonnie’s entreating and hopeful visage and said, “Well, if we’re going to take one, we’ll have to take both.” Shonnie beamed with excitement, and it was settled. We were now a five-cat family.

Though our three older cats—Chocolate (11), Kaali (5) and Attabi (4)—weren’t quite sure what to make of the two little fur balls and all the new masculine energy, the kittens settled in pretty quickly. Over the next few days we tried out various names, but settled on Bandit for the black and white because of his mask-like markings and Desmond for the tabby kitten in honor of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (though I never related this to “Arch” in my occasional email exchanges with him). Based on their large, tufted paws, their big bones and muscles (Desmond weighed 18 pounds in his prime, Bandit 11) and their long multi-layered fur, vets suggested that our boys had Maine Coon blood, a breed known for enjoying interactions with humans and being sociable, devoted, playful and at ease with children and other pets. Bandit and Desmond lived up to all of these characterizations and more. (more…)

The snowflakes, driven by the blustery north wind, blow into my face and nonchalantly dust the grass and the pines. Once again, Bandit, my trusty feline companion, is my teacher. He stands near me, tail curled around my leg, effortlessly present in the moment, while I struggle to let go of thoughts about the stuff I “should” be doing so that I am present too.bandit-in-woods

I suffer from nature deficit disorder, a common malady of our culture, especially among our youth. Sometimes I’ll spend a whole day indoors without even walking to the mailbox—writing, e-mailing, Googling, calling—yet I know that my body, mind and spirit all cry out for—more time on the trails around my home, in the mountains that surround us. I know at a cellular level that nature nurtures me, yet I forego its healing powers in order to handle the “important” matters of living—earning a living, saving the world, satisfying my intellectual curiosity, watching TV.

The wind continues to gust, but the snowflakes slowly diminish. As a terse reminder of our warming climate, the ice crystals that had collected promptly vanish without a trace. And Bandit and I saunter back to the warmth of the fireplace. As we approach the back gate, Bandit is spooked by something he hears and quickens his pace. I stride to keep up, wistful that our connection with the Earth is drawing to a close, at least for today.

From a 2/4/07 personal journal entry

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