There are always things you can do to make yourself feel better.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, wrong, and/or has never touched an actual cat.
Persons Of Tabby’s Place are familiar with a certain peak experience. The glory of this mountaintop moment cannot be overstated. It is akin to scaling Kilimanjaro, receiving a celestial vision, glimpsing the oneness of all things, or finding a BOGO deal on Whoppers.
It is the petting of a cat previously known to be unpettable.
We have experienced this glimpse of eternity countless times, yet each one feels like the first. One day, you see the shuddering creature, blanket-bound in terror or thrashing and flashing thirty rows of teeth (it is a fact universally known that frightened cats actually have extra teeth, hundreds of them).
The next day — or, more likely, hundreds of patient, painstaking, holy days later — you can touch a ripple of fur.
And then — o magnum mysterium — the day arrives.
You are permitted to love at length.
You can pet and pet and pet the pet whose petulance has miraculously given way to pleasure. And the next thing you know, your whole day, your whole week, your whole weary and weepy world is better, all because you were permitted to love.
The power of this phenomenon was on special display with one Diane Rosenberg. Adopted and returned for redirected aggression, Diane had worked herself into a tizzy that no one could untie. The hard knot of a cat was thronged with tenderness, but it may as well have been a wall of barbed wire, with plant-based salamis jabbed here and there just to be offensive.
She growled. She hid. She hurled hatred like lightning bolts at cats who presumed to exist in her zip code. She felt mad and bad and was clearly not ready to feel better.
Sometimes we’re all not ready to feel better.
Nobody admits this, but I know you know what I mean. Sometimes we holler and howl and hell-raise in all directions, convincing ourselves that we are powerless to feel anything other than like a pile of excrement, and it’s everyone’s fault, and life is hideous, and we are hideous, and even eating a movie theater-sized box of Whoppers won’t help, so obviously the situation is irredeemable.
But we can always make it better, and no one can pilfer the power of bettering. I repeat: the situation is always betterable.
And somehow we eventually remember.
In Diane’s case, betterability dawned like a sleepy sunrise, the orange yolk poking its head over the treeline in its own good time. There was growling, then glee; wholehearted hugs, then a return to the hoedown of howls. But the more Diane sampled “better,” the more she knew what she had to do.
She had to let us love her.
Perhaps it was a pity thing at first. She recognized — cats are always the first in the room to recognize What Is Up — that it made our limpy, flickering lives better every time we got to touch her. And, being as gallant and grand-hearted as all cats secretly are, she wanted our lives to be better.
So she let us pet her, hold her, hold our own hearts like soft felted comfort objects. And everyone felt a very good deal better.
Life’s Inherent Betterability (which would be a magnificent name for an all-oboe thrash band) is a mystery known to cats, of course. Even the snuggle savants who emerge from eternity eager for infinite hugs are our teachers here.
Consider something laughably obvious: cats do not pet us. They do not rub our backs or stroke our tearstained faces or rock us like the children we are. The most affectionate ones, the ones we think of as generous, essentially just let us love them without measure. Their gift is their greedy, giddy ability to receive our love.
And, it turns out, that’s exactly what we need from them.
Maybe sometimes, what we need the most is not so much to be held as to hold someone else. In so doing, we find ourselves cradled by a great wide mystery that’s bigger than the both of us.
Maybe sometimes, we’re called to be the cat, to let ourselves be loved in a way that will soothe somebody else.
Maybe every time since time’s first breath, a gentle chorus has been coaxing us along, into each other’s arms, alternately hugger and huggee, healer and healed, cat and child, in the song that never ends.
We are children, and it’s tempting to hide inside our oversized choir robes, like cats under blankets, like Diane under cover of darkness, like hearts under fear. But we are children with the choice, always the choice, to make things better.
Remember this the next time you feel mad and bad. You do not have to sit in your stew until the potatoes are softer than sadness and the broth is cold.
You can pet a cat. You can talk to cats you’ve lost in your heart. You can buy yourself a pontoon boat. You can cut out tiny pictures of yourself and paste them next to pictures of pontoon boats.
You can be like Diane. You can turn off the radio with violent, righteous gusto if they play the abomination known as “Jack and Diane.” You can find someone to hold you. You can hold somebody else. And when the room is empty and your arms are short, you can hold the entire windswept world in your prayers.
We can do more good than we imagine is in our power.
We have choices.
We can make it better for ourselves and each other, and the best way to do the former is to do the latter.
Perhaps peak experiences are as common as dandelions after all.
That’s no whopper.
May all the saints and angels hear us in the harmony.
And Diane? May she sing with fresh splendor in her forever home. Indeed, she has long since been adopted. And all the people said, “unsurprised!”