return to cato

I’ve not seen an obituary, so I won’t use his name. But some salt of the earth has left us.

He was not a close friend. He was a psychiatrist I knew professionally. For the first five or ten of my years in Asheville, most every Friday, he met with the staff at our counseling center for case consultation. He was a sui generis blend of humor, wisdom, and compassion.

Here are a few remembrances, in appreciation of him and the One who sparkled in him.

* * * *

One morning I asked him, “How are things at the hospital?”

“Oh, they’re treating me like mushrooms.”

“How do you mean?”

“They keep me in the dark and cover me with bullshit.”

* * * *

Another morning. “How you doing, man?”

“Oh, I could be worse.” He added, “Think about it. No matter how bad it gets, it could always be worse.”

From that day forward, this exchange became our ritual of greeting. “How you doing?” And every time. Every. Time. “Oh, I could be worse.”

* * * *

 

He did not pretend that his medical degree made him smarter than others. “There’s only one way to know for sure if this patient needs an anti-depressant.”

“How’s that?”

“Try her on one and see if it helps. If it helps, she needed it.”

* * * *

He was a long-standing member of the 12-step community. His presence and participation in that community helped others feel less shame about their own struggles. Through the years, I had several patients, who were his patients, too, come back from their first AA meeting and tell me they had seen him there, how surprised they were, and how his smile at them, or nod of the head, had helped them feel better about being there and getting the help they needed.

* * * *

As I was first getting to know him, I’d hear him say, “You won’t believe what Cato did to me yesterday,” then launch into a tale of some difficulty he had endured.

This happened several times — “Let me tell you what Cato did this morning” — before I took the bait and asked, “Who’s Cato?”

“Cato is Inspector Clouseau’s assistant. You know Clouseau? From the Pink Panther movies?

“Yes.”

“Cato’s job is to keep Clouseau on his toes. When Clouseau comes home, Cato has rearranged his whole apartment. Or he’s hiding from him and eventually jumps out and attacks him and they have these long fights. Once he even attacks Clouseau when he’s in bed with a woman.”

He paused, making sure the hook was set.

“Cato is what I call God sometimes.”

* * * *

So thank you, Cato. You did well with him.

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