Monday, November 7, 2011

The Cat Who Went to Heaven

As any animal lover will admit, the idea of spending eternity without your beloved pet is unacceptable! If you ask me, an afterlife without my cat is no heaven at all! As a child I was devastated when an adult told me that my cat wasn’t going to heaven because she didn’t have a soul. Finding this idea preposterous, I protested and begged my mother to assure me otherwise. Leaning on her for the answer I wanted, my mother now admits she wasn’t quite sure how to address this problem. Luckily she had remembered the book The Cat Who Went to Heaven and suggested she and I read it together. I highly recommend this book to any person, young and old. Pull out the Kleenex, I guarantee you it’s beautiful narrative which may make you cry…but a good kinda crying! Here’s a synopsis of the story:

The Cat Who Went to Heaven is a novel by Elizabeth Coatsworth that won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1931. The story is set in ancient Japan, and is based on an old Buddhist folk tale.

An impoverished Japanese painter sends his housekeeper out with a few coins to buy some food. Instead, she brings home a white cat, stating that the house is "lonely." The painter is initially very upset with this choice and states that cats are devils. However, he is somewhat consoled when he notices that the cat has three colors, which is considered lucky.

Shortly after, the painter notices the unusually good behavior of the cat, and causes him to change his mind, thus naming the cat "Good Fortune." At breakfast, the painter notes that the cat appears to be paying homage to the image of the Buddha. Intrigued by this, the painter starts to reflect on his own lack of prayer, and wonders if this is why he has suffered such hard times. Soon after, he notices the hungry cat catch and then gently release a bird. It is obvious to the painter that his cat behaves very well, and continually impresses the painter by following proper social behavior.

Almost completely destitute, the painter is miraculously given a commission by the monks at the local temple. They have hired him because of a divination. The monks had put slips of paper with various artists’ names out in the courtyard, and our painter’s was the only one left after the others had blown away. The artist is commissioned to paint a picture of the dying Buddha, surrounded by animals coming to pay homage to him. The artist is given a large sum of money as a first payment, which comes as a great relief.

As the artist progresses with the painting, he faithfully meditates on the life of the Buddha and the Buddha's previous lives. He does this in order to be able to paint each part of the scene with complete sincerely.

Towards the end of the painting process, and after painting many other animals, the painter realizes that his cat, which he now sees as a truly noble being, cannot be represented in the painting. According to the story the traditional belief of the time was that cats were cursed because of their pride and sense of superiority. This pride caused them to refuse to bow before the Buddha, thus making them barred from entering Nirvana. 

When the picture is completed, Good Fortune notices the absence of a cat and becomes very sad. Deeply touched by her sadness, the artist finally paints a small cat in the corner, knowing that this will very well displease the monks. Upon seeing what the painter had done, Good Fortune dies of happiness. By her grave is a peach tree with a bell hanging on it, which the housekeeper claims she can hear singing “Rejoice" whenever it rings!

The mural is finally delivered, and is greatly praised by the monks until they notice the presence of a cat, thus completely rejecting it. The painter leaves the temple in disgrace.

Later that evening the man hears news of a miracle. The painter arrives at the temple to find the mural has miraculously changed: the dying Buddha has extended his hand in blessing over a small white cat which is next to him.

I told you it was a tear jerker! 

1 comment:

  1. I have this book. I just sobbed over the ending. It's a beautiful story.