When I was in 6th grade I won an award for an essay I wrote. The topic of the essay was “grace” as defined in the somewhat specialized Catholic sense. I used, as my point of departure, the survival of cats in Saturday morning cartoons. In these cartoons, a cat, outwitted once again by mouse or dog and suffering unimagineable catastrophe, would lie spent while we watched the ghost images which represented its lives float up and out and away from its lifeless body—one, two, three, all the way to nine—and then at the last moment the cat, unwilling to part from this life just yet, would rouse from its torpor and reach out, barely snaring this ninth ghost by the tip of a hind paw or tail, and reel its lives, in reverse order, back into its body. No cats ever died in these cartoons. Grace, I argued, was God’s method of permitting men to suffer spiritual catastrophe, and yet, by special dispensation, repent in time to salvage life from certain death. Or else God was the fisherman, willing to play out infinite line to manage us back to the net of salvation, only letting the line slip when all hope had been snuffed by death.
This was a great success. The nuns made much of me for the rest of the year, including the Mother Superior, a truly intelligent woman who knew a good fish (or cat) story when she heard one. She submitted it to a couple of Catholic literary magazines where it received a little pleasing attention and granted me a modest celebrity among priests and nuns in the diocese. It didn’t have much effect on me, however—I still wanted to be a scientist.
Last week I was asked, certainly out of desperation, to babysit for a friend’s five-year-old daughter overnight. She was already in bed when I arrived Friday night, so I didn’t see her until Saturday morning, after I’d risen and gone downstairs. She had already made her way to the TV room, and had turned on her own cartoons. A race of creatures born of nightmare were swarming the planet, and the creatures which looked most like us were shooting them, shooting them without surcease, and yet they came without end, more and more and more until it was time for a commercial. Through it all she lay with a grip around her teddy bear, oblivious to the supercharged gunfire, fast asleep.
of her breathing