Has it ever occurred to you what a great many terrible things simply don’t happen?
This morning, your car was not stolen by Willie Nelson. You were not eaten by a mountain lion. Your family was not kidnapped by brigands. You were not forced to eat Steakumms soaked in chocolate milk for breakfast.
Gator did not go without breakfast.
Every single Tabby’s Place cat’s story, bar none, could end with the sentence, “It could have been very different.”
Mousy was one small white cat hardscrabbling through rubble. Lebanese earth angels forgot their sorrows, wrapped him in mercy, and sent him to New Jersey for a life of safety and sweet strangeness. It could have been very different.
Timmy was Oliver Twisted by fate, fumbling his orphan way down the streets of Manhattan with FIV and no friends. Heaven sent a friend with a heart bigger than the sky, and she sent Tim to Tabby’s Place. It could have been very different.
Thurman dreamed of being a merman, but was born in a landlocked town in central New Jersey. Cranky and orange and all alone, he hungered for salmon and salvation. A rescue boat filled with TNR captains heard his siren song and swooped him into a sanctuary just strange enough to be personal aquarium, patient with his sharky days and besotted with his needy ways. It could have been very different.
But it may be Gator who gazed longest and closest at the film of What Might Have Been. If they ever remake Sliding Doors as an all-feline version, Gator would surely replace Gwyneth.
An amiable urchin, jade-eyed and unjaded, the cinnamon cat was known to us before he knew us. Stalking the vast forest (total number of trees: seven) between our sanctuary and a kindhearted tire repair center, Gator was the rare cat who took it upon himself to deliver himself to Tabby’s Place.
We saw him before he saw us. We trapped him before he saw it coming. We recruited him for our team before he felt the wiffle ball of good news snocker him in the noggin. We yanked him off the subway before he could make it to his date with doom.
He’s still kind of forgiving us for this act of kindness. I can neither confirm nor deny that volunteers have been bitten, and unprintable words have been spoken.
But between the bafflement and the alligator rolls, Gator has been sinking his teeth into the greater mystery of being loved just for being himself. The food flows whether he bites or purrs; the kindness covers him like a hand-crocheted granny blanket whether he pouts or performs; the love and the safety just can’t be shaken, even if it took shaking his story like a snow globe to get him here.
It could have been very different.
We often look at the visibly “fragile” cats — say, Faith, or Samantha, or any of the orphaned newborns — and marvel, “imagine if they hadn’t come to Tabby’s Place?” But when we open our eyes just a little wider, we remember that we’re all fragile, and we all ride into tomorrow on the back of a sturdy steed named All The Bad Things That Didn’t Happen.
Maybe we should spend more time celebrating the “didn’t’s.”
Maybe we should spend more time celebrating in general.
This grateful season, I hope you’ll remember that every hour of our improbable, astonishing, fluorescent existence is open season for gratitude. I hope you’ll gape in glory at your life and its gifts, even the quiet ones, especially the quiet ones.
And I hope you’ll remember a gingerbread guy greater than infinite alligators, and all that might have been very different.
Happy Thanksgiving, kittens.