My Cat Saved My Life

Man's cat saved his life

-- By Judy Creighton, THE CANADIAN PRESS, Wednesday, June 23, 1999

The scrawny, starving kitten in the alley behind his house was to change Phillip Schreibman's life forever. At the time, the Toronto composer was grieving the death of his beloved parents.

"I could not seem to shake off the effects of those deaths," he says -- particularly the moment of their deaths which he had witnessed first hand.

"I became aware that what we know about life and death is nothing," says Schreibman, 51. "Our society avoids death. That's because it's not stylish, not fashionable, not cool, not anything."

Amid his despair, Alice the cat emerged. The experience eventually prompted him to write the book My Cat Saved My Life (Dog's Bark Publishing, $12.95).

"When Alice came into the situation and because I felt so separated from normal human ways of doing things, I began to watch her and realize that animals experience living in a very pure way. They don't surround themselves with a lot of other stuff that keeps them distanced from being right here in this time and place in a very physical way."

Although he was in the depths of desolation, Schreibman began a journey with Alice in which he felt he had become "a full-time student in Cat School." And as he did "it became obvious that she was doing a better job of living than I was," he says.

As the little kitten grew into a full-grown cat, she was able to lead her owner into her world of Creation, a state which Schreibman refers to as "the wondrous experience of a place of enlightenment."

The opposite to Creation is Culture. "Culture keeps us from realizing that we are alive," he says. So that when fear paralyses us, we often distract ourselves with what he calls activities, ideas and peculiarities of the human species that give our lives "purpose."

"Most of what I learned from Alice came about by observing her and following her around," he says. "If she wanted me to come somewhere, I went with her. I looked for her signals. I looked at things she looked at."

Alice would wake him to share with her a particularly gorgeous sunrise. She'd drag him outdoors to explore the garden, "checking, I suppose, for cat messages."

Some of these adventures verged on lunacy, such as the freezing winter day Alice got trapped on the deck railing on the second floor of Schreibman's house. At great danger to his own life, Schreibman rescued her, but not without the feeling that she fully expected it of him.

Every so often, Schreibman found himself retreating to his previous dark state, but each time Alice would woo him back with ingenious feline strategies.

"If there is someone who thinks that only humans have souls, shame on you," he says. "God laughs at your pride."

Schreibman says his book is "a small story in the stories of the world."

"It's about a man and a cat and what the cat showed the man before it was too late. I was that man. I had a friend, a cat, named Alice. And she pulled me out of despair in the nick of time. She brought me back into the world. She saved my life."

For those in the doldrums who have lost their way, it's a book to treasure.

Quotes from My Cat Saved My Life :

  • "Alice did not think of herself as a domestic cat. Rather, she regarded herself as another person in the household and expected to be treated as such."

  • "Purring was the language that Alice spoke to me. When she sat on my lap and let me know that life was good and we were pals, the engine in her throat would sing like a pump house."

  • "If there is someone who thinks that only humans have souls, shame on you. God laughs at your pride."

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