The Most Beautiful Things Are Overgrown

Marina Bay at night

 

Dear Reader,

A few years ago, I watched Kedi at The Projector. It’s a beautifully shot documentary about Istanbul’s street cats, spotlighting seven cats and their stories, and the people who feed and interact with them every day. It is a film about cats, but also about the heart of Istanbul and the immense love and care for all living beings that radiates from the people who live there. The opening scene follows a cheeky ginger cat trotting down the street, dodging the legs of pedestrians and darting under tables, stopping at specific doors and meowing for food. It begs for food from diners at outdoor tables and accepts scraps, eats some, and then starts to trot back the way it came with half a fish in its mouth. Finally it crawls into a quiet lobby of an apartment building, and four kittens pop their heads out to welcome their mother and the breakfast she’s brought them, and the packed cinema erupts in a collective “Aww!”. I cupped my face and watched other viewers do the same. Over the next hour more “Aww”s and laughs were shared, and some of us shed tears over community memorials for street cats after their death. It was probably the most wholesome cinema experience I’ve had.

I have vague memories of being an extrovert as a child, but by the time I was eleven I had somehow decided that talking wasn’t really for me and I grew more and more introverted. I also started to feel a much greater affinity with nature, and specifically, animals. This usually means I bond closely with other animal-lovers, most of whom are like me and we share a mutual respect for each others’ need for space, quiet and calm. Friendships like that are precious, they’re easy, and so, so good for the heart and soul.

Yet loving nature comes with its own set of pains. I’ve always felt a certain discomfort with the way we treat animals here that I haven’t quite been able to pinpoint. I believe most of us, as children, once had a natural wonder about animals: we learn about them in kindergarten, and we are blessed to have an abundance of wild birds, squirrels, otters, stray cats, etc. in our country, but that wonder goes away at some point and is replaced by indifference at best, disgust at worst. I always stop for stray cats, and more often than not a curious child will amble up to me wanting to learn to pet the stoic, furry creature, only to be pulled back by parents warning either “So dirty, don’t touch!”, or that they’ll get scratched and bitten. In her essay in Making Kin, Ann Ang sums it up well: “such a utilitarian mindset remains part of everyday responses, where nature is either useful or dangerous—a bird is simply irrelevant because it is neither—and like our survivalist approach towards too many things, you either prove your worth, or leave, or remain very quiet.” I used to go for runs (when I still had the willpower for cardio) at the Dakota park connector near my home, and take little detours into the wealthy neighbouring estate. I’d pass by enormous houses with bored dogs lying by the front gate in the hot sun, unable to enter the house (“dirty”) and kept solely to ward off intruders (“useful”). Ironically they tend to be so happy getting any attention at all that they do little to scare off passing strangers. I wonder what life is like for them. To be so afraid of the little bit of dirt that comes with venturing away from clean, polished concrete and manicured artificial-grass lawns sounds like absolute hell.

I can’t think of anything more soothing than the real, untouched outdoors. I go for long walks after fights, breakups and bad news to be alone and process. More often than not I come back to myself and find my feet have taken me to the nearest sea, river or pond, and I sit and watch the water until it calms me. As if the ebb and flow of even the tiniest waves could massage my scattered thoughts neatly back into place. I sometimes long to be somewhere else, where nature and animals were regarded with respect and dignity. Where I could visit a forest and feel assured that that same forest would still be there in ten years, untouched and flourishing and overgrowing magnificently. I sometimes wonder if the people in that same cinema watching Kedi on the verge of tears feel the same about these things. I’m sure if I had stopped to talk to the people sitting next to me that we might have gotten along well, however that’s not really in my nature, and probably not in theirs. But at least we shared a beautiful moment in that shared space, our souls gently entangled by our mutual love.

Love and warmth,
Ariane

(From November 6, 2021)