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'Life According to Max' teaches valuable lessons

He sits on the window seat and watches the world go by, stretches out in the sunlight and curls up as he sleeps, follows me one minute and disappears into solitude the next. Such is the life of my companion, Max. We've been together for 10 years now, outlasting several other relationships I've had.

What makes this relationship so endearing and steadfast? We may seem extraordinarily different, but we have much in common. Max is a cat and I am a teacher. These two identities may appear to be juxtaposed. To the contrary, I often exhibit behaviors common to the cat species while Max has been instrumental in teaching me many lessons about life. His education may not be formal, but there's much to learn in his classroom. Take a seat. Pay attention. You might learn something in "Life According to Max."

I recently moved. Moving is unnerving, to say the least. Max made the final move securely housed in his "Cosmic Cat" box in the front seat of the car. Upon arriving, he cautiously surveyed his new surroundings before hiding under the comforter on the pullout sofa bed. This would be Max's domain for a week. I coaxed him out with food. Max would eat a few bits, glance around the room, panic and retreat once again under the comforter.

As I sat on the sofa bed beside the small lump under the covers, my heart sank. I looked around the strange room that felt so foreign. I lifted the old comforter and climbed in beside Max. He purred while I cried and poured out my fears. I stayed there for quite some time. I learned that it's OK to be afraid when life changes. Climb under the covers. Curl up. Wait until you're ready. You will eventually come out to face the new day. Max and I slowly acclimated to our new world, at least to the inside. Max was an outdoor cat. While he fared poorly in cat fights, his climbing and running abilities kept him fit and youthful. I'd been advised against letting Max outdoors in a new location, because he could lose his way.

But after emerging from the covers, Max begged me to open the door. He cried, pawed at the door knob and looked at me with sad cat eyes. I thought about his plight. I opened the door. Max stepped out cautiously, eyed his surroundings and bolted back into the foyer.

The night finally came when Max went out and didn't immediately return as usual. I trusted that he would find his way and was happy to hear his familiar meow outside the door in the morning. He had returned to his home and to me. Life with freedom is a beautiful life.

I've learned that time away from others is as important as time in the company of others. Retreating into solitude is peaceful and nurturing. I've learned that sitting on the window seat, watching the world go by, is a joyous pastime. I've learned that a home, enough food, being loved and having freedom far outweigh the value of money. I've learned that companionship comes in many forms and that one little black cat can make a huge difference in a person's life.

Watching Max chase his tail, day after day, I realize that sometimes we all go in circles. Fortunately, with "Life According to Max," this cat tale has a happy ending. It's not about catching the prize. It's all about playing the game.

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