Joey the cat stands on his hind legs, raking his claws against our deck window, demanding to come in from the wind and snow.
I’m headed for the garage with a bag of garbage to deposit in the garbage can. Obediently, though, I detour to his door to let him in.
“Murrouw,” he grunts. I think it means “Thank you.” He shakes snowflakes off his fur onto the hardwood floor as I continue to the garage door.
As I open it, I hear a “thump-thump-thump” behind me. Carl Sandburg, who described “fog that creeps in on little cat feet,” obviously never lived with a 20-pound cat!
As I open the door to the garage, Joey scoots through, headed for the outdoors he has just clamoured to escape.
Doors are Joey’s obsession. If a door opens he has to go through it. He has, on occasion, spent most of a day trapped in a closet because we didn’t notice that he had dashed through a momentarily open door.
Phoebe the dog has a different obsession—food. (She’s a Chesapeake Bay retriever; it’s in her genes.) One day we left her in our daughter’s house. By the time humans returned, she had gobbled two pounds of butter and the chicken intended for supper.
Obsessions are fascinating things. Senator Joe McCarthy had an obsession about finding Reds under every bed; Republican candidate Ron Paul sees Feds under every bed; and bad-boy actor Charlie Sheen (if reports can be trusted) simply expects to find someone in every bed.
I’m not going to comment on my friends’ obsessions—they might not find my comments flattering. But they all have obsessions that drive them, for better or for worse.
My obsession is words. I cannot read a magazine or newspaper without seeing errors. I talk back at sloppy radio announcers. I squirm when cliché-ridden speakers flog dead horses to a lather. I know it does no good, for me or for them. But I cannot sit quietly and ignore malapropisms as if they were acceptable.
Obsessions reveal something irrational deep within us that defies discipline. It’s an urge we can’t tell just to go away and leave us alone.
Almost 90 years ago, Lloyd C. Douglas wrote Magnificent Obsession, a novel twice turned into a movie. Would that my obsessions were magnificent! Language abuse feels petty, insignificant, compared to abuse of children, workers, animals, the environment.
I feel that I ought to have the kind of magnificent obsessions that motivated Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus. The kind of obsession that would not let them be satisfied with anything less than changing their world.
And then I remember that every one of them was killed by people equally obsessed with keeping their world unchanged.
Our obsessions say much about what each of us considers vitally important. The tragedy is that, like Joey and Phoebe, so few of us recognize our obsessions and therefore we cannot keep them from getting out of control, and thus controlling us.