The Grey Hairs


A few days ago I discovered some grey hairs.

You might think that I would be dismayed at such a discovery and in a fit of vanity would take a pair of tweezers to them and, in the immortal words of Shakespeare: ” by opposing, end them.” But this didn’t really seem like a realistic or constructive response since the grey hairs in question belong to my cat, Tober.

This is pretty much cat heaven anyway, so...

This is pretty much cat heaven anyway, so…

As a human I struggle a little bit with trychotillomania which is a fancy long word for a compulsion to pluck hairs. For the most part I keep this compulsion to myself, but it doesn’t stop me from getting itchy fingers whenever I see a hair growing out of a mole or between someones eyebrows. So far I have never reached out and yanked on anybody’s whiskers: human or animal, and I didn’t think it would be appropriate to begin doing so by plucking the grey hairs out of my cat’s coat.

This got me to wondering: did my cat know he had grey hairs? There was a tuft of them on one of his foreleg; surely it was visible to him. I presumed that as a predator creature he would be detail oriented enough to notice the difference between these few hairs and the rest of his coat. Besides, I reasoned, even if cats are color blind surely he would be able to tell the difference between white and black.

So I was pretty sure he could see the hairs.

Then I wondered if they bothered him. Would he pluck them if he had fingers and thumbs capable of pinching them?  In the absence of the ability to  pluck did he also lack the impulse to pluck in the way that humans lack both retractible claws and the impulse to knead the furniture before sitting down?

I supposed that he didn’t realize that they were a sing that he was getting older. I supposed that he didn’t find them worrisome because he didn’t think of them as a sign that he was nearing inevitable death. I thought that might be a freeing way to live: never knowing what would happen in the end and therefore having no fear or expectation of death.

But then I wondered what it would mean to grow old and to not understand what was happening to you: to find yourself becoming naturally slower and wearier and not knowing why. What would it be like to look down at your body and see it changing shape and color and not knowing why?

Whatever other reasons that we humans have for differentiating ourselves from other animals there is one thing for certain: we are the only creatures who are aware of our own demise and wonder why it happens. Grey hairs mean nothing to a cat.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on March 30, 2013.

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