Thursday, January 29, 2009

Solomon's Insight...

The following is another story taken from folklore. This is a story from the Holy Lands in modern idiom. Like so many stories originally delivered in the vocal tradition this story is both for entertainment and it has a moral to teach. Using stories such as this children were often entertained during the hours before bed and taught precepts that might benefit them in some way in their life. These stories often gave the family a chance to be together and share their closeness after the day's work was done and thus encouraged and reinforced family values as well. Story time was often used as a reward through entertainment for the children.

Story telling time has languished in our modern times. Stories have given way to modern electronic entertainment instead. Television and computers have superseded contact with family and lessened the ties of personal involvement with family. Games once played with others have been replaced in large part by games that are played alone. Actual social contacts have become slightly more stand-offish and relationships slightly more difficult to maintain with the loss of social skills that telling stories such as this one encouraged.

One development that has arisen is that there is a good deal of confusion between what is real and what is not. Actual news broadcasts are sometimes, or even often, indistinguishable from fictional entertainment. We have better and faster ways to communicate but those methods are often filtered in such manner as to create fictional accounts which are presented as real events. Events are "cooked" to add more opinion, more gore, more non-factual reporting and the results are easier to access than ever before.

After being exposed to many years of this sort of activity through electronic media, the youth of today often disregard or disbelieve events presented by the media. They become saturated to the point that they no longer need imagination. Reality is seen with disbelief. Death and violence is less real and yet has become more pervasive in our lives. Less regard is given to manners and respect as these items are less important to those brought up as only children in front of a video screen even though they may have siblings. The overall attitude is one of insulation and personal good has become more immediate than that of the multitude.

A victim of our modern times is the vocal tradition. Story time, when used, is still an important tool in reinstating traditional values. With that in mind I relate this very old story with the hope that it provides an opportunity for others to help reinstate and reinforce desirable family values once again. You, the reader, can revive and revitalize the vocal tradition. You'll be pleased at how this simple method can help to raise a family in these difficult times and in aid of this, I offer the following story:

The Wisdom Which Suleiman Learned From a Cat

It is said that of all men throughout history, the ancient King of Kings named by men, Suleiman or Solomon, was the wisest to ever live in the grace of his God.

The stories told of his insight, justice, fairness and piety are legion and among these stories is one that should always be remembered for this story tells how this wisest of all men learned respect of the wisdom of his god through the actions of a favored pet cat.

It is told that Suleiman owned among his treasures a great ring which he wore constantly on his hand and this ring granted him the grace of talking to animals and the ability to understand their replies as easily as you and I understand each other in the telling of this story. It is told that among his most treasured friends was an elegant golden colored cat given him as a gift by his chosen favorite of wives, most beautiful among women, the Queen named Balkis.

Suleiman often spoke with his cat and in this manner learned much of the world from the viewpoint of another and this knowledge he used to help him balance his judgments and rule his kingdom in a manner fair to all men who worshipped the Lord.

There was a rumor in the palace among the servants that the golden colored cat was descended from the a Goddess of exotic Egypt but this was never told in the hearing of Suleiman for he allowed no other than the One God in his sight and hearing and was devout in his worship thereof.

It was to be that from the action of this same golden colored cat that Suleiman was reminded of the wisdom of his God and became all the more firm in his faith thereby.

Suleiman spent many hours with his cat and so fond of the cat was he that he allowed it to sit at the table with him as he ate his meals and taught it to hold a silver candlestick that he might see the bounty of his meal by the light thereby and enjoy it all the more.

The cat sat obediently for Suleiman for great was the love they shared between them.

All of the great king's guests marveled at the obedience and grace of the cat as it sat motionless by Suleiman holding the candle that he might enjoy his meal until one particular man of the east came into the court and disputed the might of the King's teaching and the grace of his God thereby saying unto him, "Great King, you claim through the grace of God that you have taught this cat to hold the candlestick. But I can make this cat forget all that you claim to have taught and thereby the fallacy of the grace of your God that you claim granted you this power."

Suleiman smiled for in this he sensed a great challenge and was determined to test this claim made by the man from the east. He extended an invitation that the man might dine with him that evening.

That evening the Great King sat with the man from the East at a table laden with the finest of foods and the most delicate of delicacies and close by Suleiman, as always, sat his marvelous golden colored cat holding absolutely motionless with a silver candlestick between its paws.

With a smile the man from the east released a mouse from his sleeve in such a way that it ran directly over the cat's paw as it scurried away down the length of the table and ran from the room. The cat not so much as quivered a whisker as the mouse escaped and Suleiman smiled. The man of the east also smiled as he released a second mouse that once again scurried quickly past the cat as it escaped from the table. This time however the cat watched as the mouse ran quickly away and when a third mouse was released the cat dropped the candlestick and with one spring of its lithe form fell upon the mouse and devoured it.

At this turn of events the man of the east turned to Suleiman to announce his triumph and was astounded to find the great King laughing and with a rapturous smile of joy upon his face.

Undeterred the man spoke to the great King saying unto him, "You see, your majesty, you may not change the nature of the cat for all that you might claim to speak with it through the grace of your God."

With a bright smile and wiping tears of laughter from his eyes Suleiman was heard to say to the man, "Poor man, in this you have only exposed the foolishness of man and the wisdom of my God for the Cat was created by God with a purpose and all the vanities of King and common man may not improve upon it no matter as we may try."

It is said that the man of the east stayed in the court of Suleiman for many years and spent much of that time in the study and the worship of his new found faith in the wisdom of the One God.

As to what happened to the Cat? The Cat lived for many years and had many offspring and all were beloved as reminders of the wisdom of God and cherished therefore.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Perhaps is an odd word. So full of promise and mystery, So meaningful in so many ways, and so very fine at holding back reality. It's the rock that divides the stream into two different paths, one to sink into the sands and be lost and another to become a torrent as it joins other streams on its way to the sea.

We use it to say things like "Perhaps if elephants (or pigs) could fly", ...and then we laugh. Or sometimes we use it to say about situations, "Perhaps if we went about this another way...." and we proceed. Sometimes it just means "maybe.."

But does it mean the same thing when the mother tells her children at night, "Perhaps tomorrow when you awaken Santa will have been here and it will be Christmas." and sends them off to sleep with a kiss as it does when another mother tells her children, "Perhaps tomorrow we may have something to feed you." Or "Hush, little one, perhaps tomorrow the bombs will stop falling."

What does it mean when the unknown gunner loads his mortar and smiles as he tells himself, "Perhaps this one will land on it's target." or when the frightened huddle in a place to shield themselves from that mortar round and whisper to each other, "Perhaps here, we will be safe."?

You might tell yourself that it always means "maybe.." and perhaps it does...after all it's just another word. Just a word that affirms, promises, denies and is indecisive all at the same time.

But is it really? Are all the perhaps in the world just more ways of saying maybe? Maybe you will have toys. Maybe you will have food. Maybe you will die. Maybe the sun will bless you with its warmth and bounty or maybe it will parch your waterholes, blast your crops and leach the life from your fields and your children. Maybe a new day will increase your happiness in the arms of a new lover or maybe a bullet will find you unaware leaving you to lie in a street. Maybe you will feel your life slipping away as your blood stains the stones beneath you, and maybe not...Maybe you look forward to Heaven or maybe you don't believe in a hell. Is it so easy to just shrug and say "Perhaps" ?

When do we stop saying "perhaps"?

When do all the peoples of this poor blasted planet reach out and say, "Perhaps we can live together." When do they lay down their guns and their bombs and their chains saying "perhaps these things are not necessary.."? When do they share their food saying, "Perhaps my brother is hungry"?

Perhaps never?


Monday, January 26, 2009

By God's Grace..

The following is based on a Romanian Folk Tale. It is one of many stories that I used to introduce literature classes to folklore, legend and stories in the vocal tradition during a period in which I served as a visiting artist at a local Junior College.

This is folklore. You won't find it in your bible, no matter how hard you look. To find this story you have to look in your heart. It could have been. Like many other stories of this type we hope it was. It has a happy ending.

Long ago and far away in the time of Noah and the Ark this story happened and from that time to this day cats lie in the sun to sleep and dream. This is the story of why they may do this.

As the rains began to fall in that long ago time and the great floods began to form as small trickles upon the mountainsides Noah, a man chosen above others by his god, was commanded by the Lord to gather his family and animals, one of each sort both male and female, and take them aboard a great vessel he had built and thereby save them from the flood sent to destroy all else of Mankind because they had grown wicked in their ways. Noah and his sons and the wives of these good men along with their children were all that had been chosen to be saved because of their goodness and their devotion to God.

As the rains fell, Noah and his family took aboard all the animals and all of their belongings as they had been commanded and prepared to close the massive doors of the ark. Just as the doors were closing, last of all, came the cat, racing through the rain to squeeze through the last crack of the closing doors and disappear between Noah's legs and into the cavernous hold of the ark, there to hide in the dark and wonder what possible new adventure might await.

Day and night the rain thrummed a steady drumbeat on the roof of the ark as the waters rose steadily upon the land until at last the ark was afloat and the land in it's entirety began to submerge beneath the murky roiling waters of the flood. Inside the ark Noah and his family tended the animals, gave their prayers to the Lord and listened to the falling of the rain.

Deep within the hold however, different drama was beginning to unfold. The devil had also come aboard and was even then plotting ways to bring about the downfall of the last good men on earth, chosen of the Lord, Noah, his sons, all their wives and their children. Through his evil plot the devil would prevent the triumph of the Lord.

Taking the form of a rat, the devil scurried off to find a dark place in which to work his evil. Behind sacks of grain and well hidden from the sight of men, the devil began to gnaw the planking of the ark. He was sure that when his work was finished water would pour through the hole he would make and the ark would founder then sink from sight into the waters that covered the earth, taking with it the pride of the Lord. Intent in his plans against these chosen of God the devil set to his work, eagerly gnawing at the planks of the ark and absorbed in his evil work, he gave no thought to that most special of animals, the cat.

Unpredictable, untamed, and caring not for the worries of men, gods anddevils the cat slept atop the piles of supplies in the belly of the ark and dreamed of the heroic things he might accomplish if only it wasn't raining and over all of this God watched as the drama unfolded.

For many days and nights the devil gnawed the side of Noah's Ark for it was stoutly built. All about him men and animals went about their business and listened as the rain fell, unaware of their ever approaching doom. The Devil, intent on gnawing his hole, gave no thought that his plan might fail.

Cats sleep with only their eyes closed. They listen all the time. This is one of the reasons that often people will put the cat outside the room if secrets are to be told. For cats are capricious by nature and might tell the secrets to anyone. Noah's cat was no exception and when, although seemingly asleep, it heard the tiny scuffling and gnawing of the rat it awakened there in the dark and readied itself for the hunt.

On silent paws the cat crept ever closer in the dark, guiding itself with its sensitive whiskers and its sharp hearing until at last with a rush and a spring the cat held the Devil, in the form of a rat, fast in its claws and then, with a quick, hard shake and a bite from its jaws, lined with very sharp teeth, the cat ended the evil plans of the Devil against the family of Noah, chosen of God.

Proud of it's accomplishment, the cat carried the body to Noah that it might be petted and awarded as was befitting a hero, however small. Laying the rat at Noah's feet the cat began to groom itself only to be frighteningly interrupted as he was grasped roughly, lifted into Noah's arms and carried out into the rain and thence to the railing.

Holding the cat tightly in his hands and full of wrath, Noah scolded, then cursed the cat for having broken God's commandments by taking a life. In his wrath Noah flung the cat over the rail and into the waters of the flood. The lightening flashed and thunder rolled across the sky as the little cat was lost from sight in the waves.

Then God in his infinite wisdom and mercy, granted Grace upon the cat. He reached down from his heaven and lifted the cat from the flood and set it gently once again upon the deck before Noah. He bathed the cat in warm sunlight. Then, speaking to Noah, who stood amazed at the sight of this miracle, told him to go and examine the planks of his ship that he might discover the truth of the cat's deed.

Noah and his sons and all the wives and children searched the ship with great diligence and soon discovered the hole the devil had gnawed almost all the way through the planks and stood quietly in awe at how they and all that was theirs given by the Lord might have been lost but for the cat.

Falling to their knees they begged forgiveness of the Lord and the Lord in his mercy granted it but to the cat he granted a special blessing and when all returned to the deck they found the rain stopped and the cat fast asleep, warm and dry in the sunshine and dreaming of heroic things he might do tomorrow.

From that day to this cats sleep in the sun as is their special privilege and they dream of the heroic things they might do tomorrow if it isn't raining. And sometimes, if you watch them sleeping, you'll see their paws twitch as in their dreams they once again do the work for which they were once blessed by the Lord or how once a small cat saved the chosen of God from the plots of the Devil.

Energy Conservation:Observation of an Elder Cat.

A Lesson in Energy Conservation Obtained by Observation: The Hunting Methods of an Elder Cat.

There are many lessons that young folk must learn before they make the transition to adulthood and by looking about themselves they can easily obtain examples to follow from life without necessarily having to learn everything the hard way.

One of these lessons isn’t necessarily the "most” important but is important nonetheless and herein I’ll try to explain it in such a manner as to be helpful to whomever reads this because it’s not just the young people that don’t study their lessons well and need them re-explained.

This particular lesson is about conservation of energy and how it can be learned by watching an elder cat hunt as opposed to the methods of a very young cat.

First: I’ll describe the hunting method of a young cat so that we’ll have a comparison for when we get to the real lesson which is that which we wish to pay attention to and remember.

When a young cat, with boundless energy and enthusiasm, sets out to catch his breakfast or lunch or in-between snack he’ll chase about until he finds a likely place to hunt and then he slows down until he spots a likely prey. He’ll hunker down in the grass and watch closely to see what his prospective food is doing before he makes any overt move, but if you’ll watch then you’ll see his tail always moving, twitching from side to side, waving out behind him like a low flying flag and his hind feet may be dancing in place even if the rest of his lithe body isn’t doing much. As often as not the prospective food, not being stupid, will be looking about as well and at the first sighted tail twitch will try to make a fast escape. At this point a young cat will probably leap from his or her (not usually very well chosen) hiding place and by sheer application of energy will try to catch the escaping food as it makes its getaway.

The reason I’ve drawn this picture in your mind is so that I can point out that the whole time that a young cat is out looking for something to catch he’s spending energy. He runs to his hunting area, he stays in motion the entire time he’s hunting (even if it’s just his tail) and he puts everything he has left into the final chase, leap or whatever he or she has to do to make up the distance he’s already lost by not being still to begin with. He’s already used up part of his energy allowance before he ever tries to make the final effort and if he misses then he’s wasted all that energy and is tired before he can try again. If he doesn’t learn better then his best hope of food is to trudge home and hope that the nice people will feed him out of a bowl that won’t try to run away when he attacks it.

About the best thing that can come out of this method is that the kitty will sleep well than night because he’s tired from all that energy expenditure. If he doesn’t have a home where nice people will feed him then he’ll not only be tired when he wakes but hungry as well and that little bit just might make him over-eager and careless when he goes hunting tomorrow. Hopefully he’ll capture something before he completely exhausts himself.

Now, an older cat has a much more economical method for hunting. One that saves energy, only takes a little longer, is just as satisfactory in the end and provides more success in the long run.

The young and old all have a finite amount of energy. If you’ve ever watched children at play then you can admire how they run and leap and seem never to slow down. We older folk all think on how we wish we had that much energy but the truth is that the young and old have the same amount of energy.

A child who weighs 50 pounds has exactly the same amount of energy as the average adult but weighs 1/3 to 1/4 as much so the energy goes farther as does the child. Explained in this manner it’s easily seen that a 200 pound adult has no chance to keep up with a fifty pound child. Oh sure, the adult can catch a child in a straightaway race but then too the adult has longer legs. If, however, the adult misses his or her grab at the errant child then the child will quickly outdistance said adult because although they have both used a significant amount of energy, the adult is using 3 or 4 times as much energy in the same endeavor and quickly reaches their limit while the child still has a lot of reserve energy left to use. It’s all a matter of weight, mass, and finite energy. As two variables increase then the finite number is spread more thinly in order to accomplish the same endeavor.

So, using the above as an example of energy expenditure and a short lesson in physics to explain why this is so, it’s time to examine the energy conservation methods of an adult cat.

First: An elder cat has had a longer lifetime to study how things work and realize that if it works a certain way for them then it probably works a similar way for others as well. This is how experience can be gained most easily. Therefore, adult cats, being naturally curious creatures, will attribute inquisitiveness to other creatures based on the premise that if they are curious by nature then surely others must also be possessed of a certain amount of curiosity as well.

We all use the tools at hand at times in lieu of the proper tools so this can be considered a common occurrence of life. An example of this might be that a rock can be sometimes used as an acceptable hammer if one doesn’t have a proper hammer handy (an extra bit of advice that the reader can tuck away against need).

Using this bit of knowledge combined with previous observation and experience, an older cat will casually approach their chosen hunting spot and instead of casting about to find prey will settle in a comfortable place or position and wait for prey to come to them. The cat, in this example will then lie, sit, nap or wash itself to occupy time while it waits, all the while listening and observing the area around its chosen spot. Listening and watching aren’t exactly labor intensive so it’s not using the finite amount of energy it has uselessly.

Once prey is detected, the next item on the agenda is to make it come to itself instead of having to go to the detected prey.

Using the previously mentioned theory concerning “what works for one probably works for all”, the elder cat will then began to act in a curious manner with the intent of bringing the prey (also known as food) nearer (drawn by the prey's own curiosity).

It is reasonably well accepted (by cats) that birds are possessed by an active curiosity as well as being reasonably good eating (by cat standards) so the above described tactic works very well on birds and with lesser success on smaller creatures that also occupy the definition of food for a cat. Lesser success is still success no matter how it looks to the observer. Lunch is lunch no matter how it’s served.

In the human world there are cultures that eat bugs. I’m not an advocate of having bugs for lunch but if it was a choice of bugs or starvation then I suppose I could learn to eat bugs even if I never learned to like eating bugs. Some people eat oysters. I rate that delicacy right up alongside bugs but the people that do this think I’m just contributing to their welfare by leaving them more oysters that they can eat instead of reducing the overall amount by what, I suppose, might be called my rightful share. Good for them. The more they eat then the less that I have to plan on how to avoid.

Birds also have the advantage of fairly good eyesight and a higher point of vantage than ground bound creatures. Any military type will be happy to explain the advantage of higher ground when it pertains to observation. My advice is not to get the military types started on this discussion unless you’re seriously interested in the emplacement of artillery.

Cats have several aspects that I won’t go into in depth in this essay because the purpose of this essay is to teach readers about energy conservation and these aforementioned aspects all have to do with circumventing the laws of physics as are generally accepted and taught in schools. In point of fact these aspects are so upsetting to the school of physics that if you’ve studied physics at all you’ll notice that cats are never mentioned. If a thing is out of sight then it’s out of mind and can be safely ignored is the (false) working premise behind this failure.

Amongst these aspects is variable weight to mass ration. This aspect is important to the rest of this discussion. If you’ve ever wondered how your cat can reach the top of your refrigerator from a flatfooted start on the floor then this would help explain it. The cat is capable of adjusting its weight to mass ration so that instead of lifting a heavy object to any given height, it simply adjusts its weight and is only lifting a light object (i.e. itself). The end result is that by using a given amount of energy it can jump higher than would normally be expected. It’s a simple solution to the cat although it might seem perplexing to a human. They can also hover using the same method although cats usually endeavor to disguise this fact lest someone pay attention to it.

Why I’ve mentioned this aspect is that it’s very useful during the elder cat’s foray into the acquisition of lunch.

I once had the pleasure of close acquaintance with a cat who could control this aspect of his existence so well that upon jumping from the floor he could casually hover at the apogee of his jump while deciding where to step across to his chosen landing point. I have observed him do this upon jumping from the floor to the top of a six foot tall refrigerator numerous times.

I have had people tell me that what they were seeing was just hang time but I observed this feat so many times that I knew it was denial of actual observation on their part. My friend, the cat, knew this would happen so he carried on in the manner to which he’d become accustomed with no further regard for the opinions of people.

A ordinary cat is fully capable of attaining a height of about 3 feet or more in the air from a reclining position through the application of this useful aspect. This can be hazardous to anything occupying the airspace directly above the cat when this happens whether it’s a bird, your hand or some other object or extremity.

If you’ve ever tried to step over a reclining cat only to trip when it attained altitude then you now know how it’s done and why you found yourself lying on your nose on the carpet. A cat’s space includes not only the space horizontally around itself but the airspace above it. Imagine that space as a bubble. You invade that bubble either with the granting of largess on the part of the cat or at your own peril.

To concentrate on the actual point of this essay for a moment, the elder cat will wait until it has attention of a potential candidate for lunch and then began to act curiously. It may flop about, engage in some manner of play resembling an epileptic fit or whatever it might take to fully engage the potential meal’s attention, all the while observing the potential lunch entre and its reactions to the cat’s behavior.

Once the cat has identified the behavior that attracts the most reaction then it will continue that behavior until the prey decides to examine the cat's activities more closely.

A bird may fly over the cat a few times then retreat to a safe distance to observe but in the fullness of time it will decide that the cat has made no hostile move and the situation needs yet another, better and closer examination of what might be ailing the creature it is currently watching, all the while announcing to the world at large that a curious thing is happening and thereby attracting other potential food to the area.

If the potential food first spotted does not get careless and make a low strafing run at an incautious altitude it is quite possible that some other equally enticing morsel will do so after exercising too little caution and forethought. These second choices are often younger birds who lack life experience. When this event occurs, the cat will burst from the ground as though rocket propelled and with a careful eye to interception and interdiction will be right in the flight path of the curiosity stricken potential food as it enters into a permanent new avocation (albeit short lived) as food. If a ground borne bit of food comes within reach first, called by the newscast of the original airborne food, then it might suffer a similar fate before it is actually necessary for the cat to exercise itself in airborne gymnastics It is of some interest to note that this strategy will often sometimes work in favor of the cat by attracting the attention of a human who will sometimes feed the cat rather than allowing it to acquire sustenance through the deaths of other birds or animals. With either result the elder cat has used a single method to obtain a meal showing good forethought and initiative in planning ahead.

All this is accomplished with a minimal amount of energy expenditure and, perhaps. includes a nap in the process.

In summation: A great deal can be learned from the observation of how an elder cat hunts, conserves energy, and eats well as opposed to the method that the energy profligate exuberance of a young cat displays.

It benefits us to be mindful of this masterful display as shown by the elder cat.

Conserve energy, plan ahead, and execute that plan with minimal flourish and wasted time. It’s a lesson that all can profit by through the energy saving method of observing one’s elders before wearing one's self out trying something that might not work. After all, if it works with time for a nap thrown in, what could be more enticing?

For humans, chocolate or ice cream would be an added bonus but the young of humans have already learned and taught their peers that they can pester the older folks to achieve that goal without the necessity of having to provide it themselves simply by offering to share once it’s been obtained. Do not trust this premise. It’s often false. Just as the elder cat practices deception to achieve its ends so do the youth of adult humans to achieve theirs. This they “do” learn early. Not all lessons are wasted on the youth of any species. Some are well learned at a very early age. Conservation of energy just doesn’t seem to be amongst those well learned early lessons.

Go forth and put into practice what you have learned herein today.