Today, I’d like to introduce you to Lon. I met him in 1988 when he’d been HIV-positive for a year; two years later he died from the complications of AIDS.
I cannot share with you what we spoke about in the examination room each week. The truth is that now—nearly twenty-two years after his death—I don’t remember the words. I do remember the spirit of the man I met. I wrote about that spirit in 1993, three years after his death.
At that time, I was trying to use the deleted sections of Dulcy’s book A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story to create a companion book. I had the idea to change the sections into twelve habits Dulcy would share with other cats. Then the idea came to accompany her habits with accounts of how the habits had influenced my life.
For the sixth habit, Dulcy ended her advice to cats with the following words: “When you follow Habit 6 and listen with an open heart, you touch the deep goodness of the one you love.”
Those words inspired me to write about how Lon affected my life. Here are the words with which I eulogized him in Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats & Their Humans. Note that I used the name Liam here instead of Lon.
In Saint-Exupery’s classic book The Little Prince, the fox tells his friend, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Only with the heart can one listen rightly too.
Like the little prince, I have had a fox teach me to listen with my heart. That fox was a young man who had lived with AIDS for three years. As he grew old with the disease, Liam began to think long thoughts, to find the hidden depths within himself. He began to cherish silence and solitude.
When we talked, he shared his journey through the squalls of the illness, the deserts of the despair, the forests of new growth. His thoughts seemed to come from deep wellsprings within himself, and the water from these hidden resources gave me new life.
Slowly, but surely, I began to listen to him with both my mind and my heart, to listen to the feelings and dreams and meanings behind his words. I opened my heart to receive these last gifts from my friend. He would soon be gone, and I wanted to remember more than his death. I wanted to embrace the joy of his life. Each story became his legacy to me. Did he laugh? I laughed too. Did he cry? I did too. Did he rave against the darkness of the night? I, too, raved.
I listened with an open heart, and I found the uniqueness of my friend. I learned his heartwish. Not because he told me, but because I watched him live it. I listened to what his actions said. And when I told him he was teaching me to listen with an open heart, my friend said, “You already know how to listen, Dee. Dulcy taught you.”
And he was right. I could listen with my heart because again and again, when days have been dismal and depressing, Dulcy has laid her round, plump body against my chest—her ears perked, her whiskers stiff, her eyes deep pools of love—and waited for my voice.
With my hand resting gently on her back, she has stroked my cheek with a soft paw and purred love. In those moments, I am the love who gives meaning to her life. She hears the deep silences within me.
And from my dear friend, I learned this silence—the silence that enables us to listen with our heart. What is important to Dulcy is invisible to the eye.
On Saturday I will share with you one thing that Lon did say to me. His words changed my life. I do not think I will be betraying his trust. For me these words are his legacy.