Leave the Cat

My husband and I happened upon the movie Alien the other night, and since we couldn’t agree on anything else on the 300 and some channels, we settled in.

We had missed the best scene. You know, the one where the alien bursts out of the guy’s stomach. It was at the part when the crew knows there’s some sort of alien on their spaceship (well, duh – they’d seen it burst out of the guy’s stomach), but they have no idea what, exactly. They’re tracking it armed with flashlights, a couple of guns, and… a net.

It’s not a big industrial “let’s go catch us some potentially dangerous alien life form” net, either. It looks about as substantial as a butterfly net you might give to your nephew. Yes, they set out looking for what we later learn is an enormous, vaguely insect-like creature whose blood is metal-burning acid armed with a butterfly net.

Of course, the first thing they track down isn’t the alien, but the captain’s cat. The scene is very tense. Their guns are aimed, the net is poised to catch the dreaded alien, and ROWR! It’s a kitty. So what do they do? They send Harry Dean Stanton after the cat.

Why? There is no explanation other than to move the plot along. There are a lot of crew members to kill off, so they may as well have one of them walking around going, “Here, kitty kitty kitty,” before he’s slaughtered by the really creepy, much-too-large-for-a-butterfly-net alien.

Later, when most of the crew has been decimated, the remaining crew members have realized that a butterfly net is not going to be at all helpful, and their only mission is to get the hell off of the ship, the captain hears the cat, stops getting the shuttle ready, and wanders off to find the cat.

What is THAT?

I understand that many people are deeply, deeply attached to their pets. I lovingly fed my daughter’s hamster medicine through a tiny syringe and bawled when he died, and I am aware that this is only the tip of the iceberg. However, I firmly believe that when you’re in deep space, a horrifying alien has annihilated your crew, and you have one chance to get out of there, you need to focus on your goal – living, and leave the cat.

It struck me that we do the same sorts of stupid things in our daily lives. We concentrate on the wrong things, the minutiae, and lose sight of the important stuff. Parents do it when we get on our kids’ backs about cleaning their rooms when they’re trying to tell us about something truly momentous like the bus driver farting audibly. Teachers do it when we focus on sticking it to the smirking, eye-rolling punk who manages to tip over his desk every day, when we should be focusing our energy on minimizing opportunities for punk-like behavior. Students do it when they waste time bitching about mean teachers (and let’s be fair, sometimes teachers are mean), when they could be doing their homework so the teacher won’t have anything to be mean about. We all do it – we get stuck on something that seems important and in doing so lose sight of the main goal.

Later in the movie, as I watched the captain go back, yet again, for the cat, I decided that “leave the cat” was going to be my new motto. So from now on, whenever I realize I’ve been doing something nit-picky that actually distracts me from my larger goal, I’m going to think about Alien and remind myself: leave the cat.

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