After finishing the class with my pupils this morning, near dawn, I heard soft, padding footsteps. Something fuzzy rubbed against my exposed calf. Baelfire, my full-bodied black cat. My fuzzy behemoth.

As I glanced at him he looked up at me — gold eyes shimmering in the dawn light. He placed two paws lightly on my thigh.

I stretched to pet him. Not in my usual way though of merely offering him measured affection, his due. Instead, I caressed my fingertips along his flank just as soft as he’d handled me. Patted his shoulder reassuringly,as a beloved friend. He is not a pet. He’s Baelfire.

It hit me that so many people speak of the creatures that live in their homes as friends, but care for them in reality as pets. Rather than feel humbled by the service and loyalty they offer us throughout their brief lives, we act as though they were adornments of a lifestyle, some dubious image of ourselves. Vanity. I’ve watched the finest intentions wend this way. I’ve seen this in friends and (when I was in the pet care industry) saw this in my clients. This has been me too.

If we’re paying attention, we realize that it’s not only other animals that get treated like pets. We do this too to our fellow humans — relatives, friends, lovers, etcetera. These are living beings yet we fall into ruts with them, learn the shorthand for “dealing with them,” their lives, the narrative arc they’re constructing out of thin air just to have us in their lives. We take them for granted. We treat them like accessories, pets.

You’ve done this. We’ve all done this. We will do this again.

This is the grand thing about being so-called “woke.” You don’t do it once. You need to wake every day, get yourself mentally, emotionally, physically to the “place” you know you ought to be. Some days you will be more “woke” than others. Some days will take less out of you. Some days will hurt less than others. These aren’t achievements, only transitory conditions. With practice, the effort of being “woke” will be gradually less affected by the ebb and flow of such conditions.

Baelfire sits by my leg now. He looks away toward the doorway at the far end of my home office. His broad, fleshy back undulates over the slender ridge that is presumably his spine. His head swivels and looks back at me, nostrils widening as he sniffs the at the air between us. Those glorious gold eyes swallow me. I am with him now. With him.

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