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January 15, 2007
It would be nice if I could type with both hands, I tell Ben, who is stretched out in my lap. Somehow he has succeeded in using my left hand as a headrest. I thought cats were supposed to curl up in people's laps, not stretch out. Ben opens one eye slightly, to signal that he has heard but chooses to ignore me.

He is always taking advantage of my good nature.

Let's call Chad, I suggest. I call Chad's cell and put the phone on speaker, close to Ben's whiskers. Ben meows a lot, so I figure I can count on him for a monologue. A familiar voice sounds from the phone: Chad's phone message. Ben listens intently but says nothing. Come on, I tell him, Say something. It's your friend, Chad. Ben begins to purr loudly, but does not speak. Finally I give up -- and just as I press the red button to disconnect the call, Ben begins a paragraph of meows.

I have mentioned that Ben's default meow sounds like the quacking of a duck. It is an unlovely sound, pitched as it is in his lower vocal register -- Ben has yet to discover his falsetto, which might be nice to hear and could also be quieter. So I am encouraging him to broaden his vocal range and work on his diction. Just now -- and on his own initiative, which is how cats do everything -- he is hard at work on adding some new consonants to his meows, notably an "ng" sound, so he can express ideas like "Please stop typing"or "Shouldn't I be eating?" more clearly.

I have learned that the way to get Ben to stop quacking is to stroke his chin, bury your face in his lovely soft fur and tell him in a soft voice that he is a good cat and that all is well. This must be done in standard English: what you do not want to do is quack back at him, although it is hard to resist doing so. Here, it is important to be firm: engaging him in the language of ducks just encourages him to quack. Besides, it is dangerous to speak to someone in a language you don't understand -- there's no telling what you might be saying without knowing it. What if you're saying something like "Bet I can quack louder than you can?"

What you want is engagement, not an arms race of duck rhetoric. If all I do in response to someone else is what he has done to me, who will ever do something new? Will we not live out our days in an endless quacking "Oh, yeah? Yeah!" loop of mutual misunderstanding?

I thought, when I sat down to write, that I would save this eMo about Ben the Cat for another day, and write instead about the legacy of Dr. King. But now I see that Ben has led me there. On his own initiative. You don't end violence with violence. You don't end insult by hurling more insult. You won't get something new by doing something old. You bring love into the world by showing the world more love. You allow yourself to come closer to the enemy, close enough to see not only the whites of his eyes, but to see also their beauty.

And once you have seen the beauty, you will not fire your weapon.
Fr. Matthew Presents! Check out a newcomer to the Geranium Farm, definitely our coolest member (by a considerable margin) and our very first YouTube offering. Matthew Moretz tells us What It Is in some very cool ways, from St. Paul's in Yonkers, NY. Click on the picture at the arrow to get started. You can also see archived "Fr. Matthew Presents" by clicking on the link to his home page.
Also tune in to Brian Lehrer at this morning at 10am EST, when Brian presents his annual tribute to Martin Luther King, in which listeners call in with one-minute readings about any ethnic group other than their own. This is always a beautful and moving experience that reminds us what radio can be.
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