William had always been a loner. Although he lived with half a dozen cats and several dogs, he mostly kept to himself. He seemed happiest when he was alone.
And then a little black kitten named Dagny came along.
I don’t know quite how it happened, much less why. By the time Dagny had been in the household long enough to be just another member of the family, I finally noticed that she was joining William when he went off to be alone.
He used to love sleeping in a laundry basket in the sun. Soon, she was sleeping in that laundry basket with him. She was joining him when he slept on the back of a sofa. And before long, if one of them was sleeping on the bed — or watching out of a nearby window, as they were doing in the photo above — they were almost always together.
As far as I can tell, cats and dogs don’t have the concept of romantic love, much less marriage. But these two shared an unexpected bond — and it seemed to make both of them very happy.
William and Dagny are both long gone now, but I found myself thinking tonight that the mystery of their bonding isn’t much different than the mystery of a man and a woman falling in love with one another.
I used to think romantic love was a rational process. (Seriously. Don’t laugh.) I thought I could carefully choose the woman I would love — and I thought she could choose me, too. My perspective today is that it’s just as unpredictable — and just as irrational — as Dagny and William developing whatever deep partnership grew between them.
I actually had 13 cats at one time while both of them were still with me. What are the odds that these two particular cats would choose each other? Why would William suddenly allow this on random cat to share his space when Dagny came alone? And why did she want to — when none of the others showed any special interest in him?
I have no idea — just as I have no idea why I’ve chosen to fall in love with any of the women I’ve loved.
It’s easy to list some of the characteristics that are common to the women I’ve loved. They’ve all been smart and beautiful. They’ve all had values similar to my own. They’ve all had goals compatible with my own. They’ve even shared some superficial physical characteristics.
But I could name dozens of other women I’ve known who fit the same mold — but who I never fell in love with. Why? I just don’t know.
The only thing I can say for sure is that when I fall in love with a woman, she becomes my ideal woman. I even value things about her that I wouldn’t have valued in another woman — just because she is who she is. That makes no apparent sense.
There is some sort of spiritual and emotional connection between two people who fall in love. Scientists might be able to measure the effects of this bond — in changes of heart rate or other physical characteristics — but the “energy” of love is a complete mystery. Anybody who says he understands it is fooling himself.
After William died in 2015, Dagny was devastated. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such mourning from one animal over the death of another. For something like two weeks, she walked around the house crying out, as though she was looking for her friend. It was painful since I couldn’t comfort her. (Here’s a recording I posted six years ago while it was going on.)
I’ve talked with you before about how much it hurts to lose someone — or to miss something who’s gone. Just a few days ago, I got a message from a man about what I wrote about the pain of missing someone.
“I just found your post from 2015 describing the physical feeling in your chest when missing someone,” he wrote. “I just wanted to say it was beautiful. I’ve never thought someone would write down what I feel so perfectly.”
As I read that, it occurred to me once again that the pain I’ve experienced from lost love isn’t that different from the pain experienced by so many other people. It’s a universal feeling. We all share the human agony of love and need and connection and loss.
When the connection of love happens, it’s like a miracle. It’s the sort of miraculous mystery that can make the rest of life worthwhile — but it remains a mystery.
I don’t understand the mystery of what makes me choose one woman to love — or what makes her love me, which is even more mysterious to me — but whatever it is that causes this, I’m convinced that William and Dagny experienced their own version of that beautiful mystery for themselves.