Cornflower on porchSometimes we don’t choose our friends: they choose us. I never invited Cornflower into my lap, or heart. She came on her own. And she changed me.

She was, as I often told her, a very pretty girl. She had subtle concentric markings on an elegant grey coat, a lovely and expressive face, a taut and petite body. Corny was that rare combination of beauty, power, and intellect, all in one package.

She was the most intuitive and intelligent animal I’ve ever known. She had bright, quick eyes and would return your gaze directly and knowingly, maintaining steady eye contact through any conversation. She was aware of everything in the room, everything in the house, and especially of her people.

I first sensed that she was different when she was still young: I had severe indigestion one night and could do little more than slump into a living room chair. She came and curled against my stomach and purred for hours until I was feeling better. Over the years, in my arms, or stretching with me on the floor, she would sometimes look into my eyes and reach out a paw to carefully touch my cheek.

Our favorite times were late at night when my work was done and I could just relax in my reading chair with a good book. Corny would come and hop into my lap, curling up or spreading out contentedly. Sometimes she would drape her chin over my arm as I read, eyes closed, content to let me do the thinking. She was a true friend: reliable, present, non-judgmental. There was something natural and timeless about our relationship. I had a sense that humans and cats had kept each other company in this way down through the ages.

Cornflower sleeping on boxCornflower had the loudest and most persistent purr that we ever heard. Often, just the sound of our voices was enough to get her going, even when she was half asleep. When I left my office for the night, I would pick her up gently and cradle her in my arms with her head next to my cheek, telling her quietly that it was time to “tuck her in with Mr. Alex.” She would purr louder and louder as we approached his room, spilling out of my arms as we reached his bed, where she would settle contentedly for the rest of the night.

Corny was a powerful and precise cat. When still a kitten, she got stuck on a branch of our back yard oak tree, 20 feet or more off the ground. I left her hanging by two paws, while I searched frantically for something to catch her. By the time I returned, she had landed, unhurt. Once I saw her jump from floor to sofa, unexpectedly encountering a cup of hot tea precariously perched on the arm, and avoid it with split-second, deadpoint accuracy.

Loving as she was to us, Corny was a ferocious fighter and a prolific hunter. To our endless chagrin, she brought dozens of kills to our doorstep. Once we saw the neighbor’s dog, who had chased her as a kitten and was still many times her size, near her in the yard. As the large dog saw the small cat in its peripheral vision it hesitated for a second, then veered in a different direction, keeping a respectful distance.

The memories of Cornflower jumble together now. There are disturbing flashes from the day of her death, holding her stiff body in disbelief that the street she had crossed a thousand times could finally take her life. My days faded to black and white for a while after she was gone. Then come memories of her curled in my lap, or on her box purring contentedly, or sitting on the stool by the front porch door meowing insistently to be let in, head cocked in impatience. At times there is a calm sense of her presence in my heart, quiet, non-judgmental, soft, and loving.

“From the perspective of consciousness, the difference between humans and animals is a matter of degree and not of kind,” writes a great Buddhist teacher. Corny was living proof. She gave me a heartfelt connection to all of creation, breaking down any barriers I might have imagined between myself and other beings.

Cornflower bushThe night after her death, sitting in my office, engulfed in sadness, I could still see her sweet face, feel her nose in my hand, sense her soft body. I realized that Corny was not a single, undivided thing that had ended. She was a collection of qualities to which we gave a name. Some of those qualities — beauty, love, strength, dedication, presence — endure forever in other forms, like the bush we planted over her final resting place. If I am wise enough, I will see Cornflower again.