Mary’s story

I wake up, stretching to the familiar sound of birdsong, the coolness of a still, early morning, and the first rays of pink sunlight glowing on the browning grass beside me. 

Wait, what the heck?

Where am I? Sitting up, my eyes catch on my village nestled in the valley below. Smoke rises from chimneys. 

I look around. My vision is a little blurry and colors aren’t sharp, but I assume that’s because I just woke up. I’m on a comfortable ledge not far up a mountainside. Huh? I could’ve sworn I fell asleep in my bed last night. 

I rub my eyes – only to get a face-full of fur. I take one look at my hand – no, paw – and scream. But all I hear is a yowl, like a cat. 

I bolt to the river and look in the water. The strange thing is, I recognize my cat self. 

I’ve somehow become the Great Cat of All Wisdom, who resides in the mountains, giving advice to those who seek it. 

I stagger back to the ledge, mind racing, trying to make sense of this. I have the body of the Great Cat, but the mind of my human self: Emmett Orion Blandshard, just the ordinary townsguy whose father was a farmer.

I plop down in self-pity. What am I going to do? 

My ears perk. Someone’s coming. Shoot, I’m the Great Cat. I have to give people advice! But I’m not all wise! How can I do this?

Two people come up the mountainside, surprising me. I almost greet them with a “Hi, mother and father”, but fortunately I don’t. 

“Oh Great Cat of All Wisdom,” my mother says. “Please. Spare us a moment of your precious time.”

“We’re in deep need of advice,” my father says. 

They both look weary. I’m curious why they’re here. 

“Go on,” I say regally. My cat voice is deep, resonating, and impressive.

“It’s our son, Emmett.”

I choke. Huh?

“He’s growing up fast. There’s so much we want to teach him. We want him to be a good person always – helping his worst enemy if they were a beggar on the road, always being honest, kind, and hardworking, never losing hope, having faith,” my parents say.

My cat throat is a little tight. “You’ve taught him this already.”

“We know, but there’s more. We want to teach him how to dream when he is awake, to see worlds that are not, to imagine,” my mother says. 

“Yes, this is why we need advice, from one as great as you,” my father says. “How can we teach this?”

I stare at them. What kid has ever had to teach his parents how to teach him? And what are they even talking about? 

“We wish him to be a great man someday,” my parents continue. “We want him to dream as big as the whole world. But we don’t know how to teach this.” 

I bite my rough tongue. Ow. My teeth are sharp. 

What do I say?

I’m not wise enough to answer this. I stare awkwardly. Teach imagination? Is it something we’re born with? I don’t know!

Realizing I have to reply or the Great Cat will look stupid, I try to think harder. How – what – I can’t do this!

I close my eyes, trying to focus, feeling my cat heartbeat, paws on the gravelly grass. Strangely, I begin to feel a faint beat beneath – like the heartbeat of the earth or something. Is this some automatic cat power? 

Among the beat, I start feeling other stems of some kind of energy, surging and drifting, but not breaking. Maybe it’s some Great Cat magic. Maybe it’s just something humans never bothered to take the time to feel. 

Forgetting about my parents, I delve deeper into the earth, surrendering physical awareness to search this strangeness. Each strand of energy feels complex, whole – like a vast sky of stars – yet intertwining, a harmony of the perfect chaos all around me – every pulse of life, every spark of something new, every unseeable object. It’s astonishing. I let my paws ground me, opening my eyes to see my parents watching me. 

I feel… strange. Like I just witnessed creation itself. I feel calm. Intrigued. And pretty smart too. I’m just your average village guy who happened to become the Great Cat of All Wisdom. 

My parents gaze intently. Their question comes back to me. 

Then I understand. 

Imaginations – they’re like the energies I felt beneath the earth. You just can’t comprehend imaginations until they’re shared – converted to word in speech or ink. Everyone has one, yet few take the time to explore it. 

Everyone’s imaginations are tied together, bound in some infinitely complex web of strands of thoughts, of non-existent dreams. Yet each are their own, belonging to someone who lived a different place, things, and experiences. Connected, yet unique. Like every living being. 

Imaginations are alive. Unseeable, unhearable, untouchable, untastable. Yet we know it’s there. So strange, yet we mere humans can uniquely grasp it. Some part of us, beautifully created, allows us to imagine. 

I finally reply, “Imaginations can’t be taught. They’re a part of us already. What can be given to a child, to anyone really, is the cultivation of this perplexity. Give them inspiration to dream, to wonder. Give them books and adventures. Give them the knowledge of right from wrong, so they know not to delve into the dangerous world of imagining unhealthy things. Imaginations, like everything, can be used for good or for bad.”

My parents smile and sigh with such gratefulness. “Thank you, Great Cat.”

I nod solemnly. As they turn to leave, I add a clever afterthought with a small, cat-like smile, “One last thing: If this child of yours finds the inspiration to imagine – to dream while awake, to see worlds no one will ever see, to fly on the wings of dragons – if it’s possible and if he can – suggest him to write it all down.” 

Written by Mary Bolinger