A Tribute to Powell Cat
By Zachary Abbas
Graphics: Anne-Fatima Syed
We students at UCLA recently lost an icon on campus, a friend to all who, for many students, was a bright spot in their long days of studying and working hard. Considered by many to be our school’s unofficial mascot, Powell Cat, as they were known, passed after ten years of life, leaving behind them a spot near Kaufman hall that, for many of us, will feel empty for the rest of our time here.
I can’t help but reflect on my own experiences with Powell Cat. The first poem I wrote as a student at UCLA was at night, two weeks into fall quarter as a transfer student struggling to find purpose in life, while Powell Cat sat in my lap. Later, I took friends, some of whom have now moved on in their own time, on ‘tours’ to see Powell Cat. The grass by the side of Kaufman at night was my favorite place to reflect, largely because of the presence of our friend who, even if I couldn’t see them on a particular day, would still give me a feeling of companionship and play. And yet, in all of those instances, I did not quite appreciate how much I took the cat’s presence for granted until now, they are gone forever. How fitting it is that Powell Cat has given me one final thing to reflect upon – the process of time and the loss of friends.
Everything happens in its own time. For most of us, living a long life is a good thing – if we’re lucky, we live a long life, and, when our time comes, we pass surrounded by loved ones, content with how we have lived and what we’ve done and accomplished. But this entails that all the people we’re surrounded with at the end are completely different from the ones that surrounded us at the beginning.
As the years go by, all of those close to us will be replaced, slowly, either by choice, by time, or by death, all come and go. What retains them is gratitude.
There was a time, when I was very little, where, upon parting from someone I likely never would interact with again – such as the lady on the Lufthansa flight to Beirut who gave me a KitKat bar when I was five, or my friends from my preschool in El Paso, whom I can no longer recall their faces, or the custodian at my middle school whose smile always began my day with warmth – I would want to say “Have a good life.” Only, that’s not really comprehensible at face value. What I wanted to express is well wishes to carry them beyond the day – “Have a good day” only covers that day and ends with it’s end. In truth, I wanted to express the wishes that most every parent has for their child, that most siblings and friends hope for their sibling or friend – that they have a good life.
What I wanted to express with that farewell was one that, perhaps, was awkward because I lacked that close connection to those individuals. Yet for me it was a recognition that they had impacted me and influenced me and my life, and that I truly wished them all the best with all that came in the future.
It was a realization that everyone has an influence and impact on me – the people I see on a regular basis, the people I’ve seen once, and even the people whom I have never seen, but whose actions have affected me. I owe everything I am to such interactions, even the bad ones, and in some sense, I am grateful for them too. The growth we make from it all – the good and the bad – is up to us to reflect upon and move forward.
There’s a story I want to narrate to touch on this point of growth – in Turkish Islamic history, there was the famous Sufi poet Yunus Emre. Yunus wrote primarily in the common folk tongue of Turkish, and his poems were deep in meaning, with many perceiving them, incorrectly, to be statements of disbelief. One such figure was the local faqih (judicial cleric) Molla Kasim, who, according to some stories, had a history of rivalry with Yunus, and had given him much grief when they were both younger students of the sage Taptuk Emre, with Molla Kasim believing himself to be a more righteous and proper person than Yunus.
Molla Kasim had seized Yunus’s corpus of poems and sat by a river, reading through them and burning them as he declared them each to be filled with disbelief. The story goes that he had burned through two entire sets, and had begun to burn the third, when a line at the bottom caught his eye – “Yunus, if you stray, then a Molla Kasim will come and correct your way.” He frantically put out the flames and did his best to retrieve what he could from the already-burnt manuscripts, for he now understood the failure in his action.
Yunus isn’t necessarily praising Molla Kasim in this couplet – instead, one interpretation is that he is pointing out that, through Molla Kasim’s bad behavior and arrogance, Yunus learned for himself through reflection how not to behave. Yunus found his belief in being called a disbeliever, and found humility in the face of arrogance. In their own way, even ‘bad’ people are a gift for us, if we reflect on them. If we can appreciate even the bad in our life, then what can be said about the good?
Powell Cat’s passing is a reminder that all of this, too, will pass in its own time – the family I rely upon today may not be here tomorrow, the friends I have today will, in their own time, depart, and even the tiniest of things I take for granted – the position of my cup on my desk in my dorm room, the laughter of sophomores outside waking me up at 1 AM, conversations with peers I see once a month, my roommate’s many water bottles – all of this, too, will change in their own time, and I have only now to be truly appreciative of all of it.
Hazrat Ali (a.s) teaches us that “In gratitude for blessings lies their continuity.” These reflections, perhaps, are my own expression of gratitude – for the tiniest of things to the largest of them – because they all make me who I am today. Think deeply, dear reader, about the things in your own life – the good, the bad – because they are all blessings in their own way. Tell your friends and family you love them. Don’t take a single day for granted.
Filled with my own gratitude, I hope you are able to reflect on these and find the things you are appreciative of. Everything we deal with, everything around us, still shapes us and makes us who we are.
I sincerely hope you, dear reader, have a good life.