Bagel-brained editor’s note: When you see “At the knee of a wise adoptee,” you know: your author is an imbecile.
No, no, no, that’s not quite right. Your author is an enthusiast who writes blogs in advance, so you shall remain entertained if she is kidnapped by pirates or brigands or Jeff Goldblum. Your author is a dunderhead who assumes that certain cats are “safe” to scribble about in advance, for surely they won’t be adopted too soon. Surely? Surely your author is an imbecile.
Anyway. “At the knee of a wise adoptee” means that the post you are about to read was written well before the cat in question was adopted. Fortunately for imbeciles and enthusiasts, cat tales never go stale. XO, AH
Lean in close to your favorite cat.
Close enough for his old-man ear hair to tickle your nose and take care of your secrets.
Tell him what you love, and he’ll tell you who you are.
Tell him what makes you feel loved, and he just might tell you how to heal the universe.
Love is a noun. Love is a verb. Love is the word we use most often at Tabby’s Place, followed closely by “thanks” and “wow” and “shmoldie” and “treatzieweetzies ooOOooo it’s treatzieweetzie time!” (Or the equivalent. This last one is a highly personalized invocation.)
But to stand on its own 2-4 feet, love needs to leap off the page.
Love needs to live.
And the living of love looks a lot like the little things.
Barney, all burnt-sienna and pumpkin pie, is not a cat you’d call “little.” Although average in size, he savors the world through eyes as large as life, as large as light, as large as a new year. His romance-novel hair is a perpetual blaze, on fire from ends to tips, almost long enough to braid, almost long enough to braid the universe back together.
Yes, I think rather highly of Barney.
But for all his largeness, Barney is a treasurer of the tiny. And that’s what put him in position to teach us the measure of love.
When Barney touched down on Planet Tabby’s Place, his soft feet fumbled for the familiar. His pumpkin heart had been rolled down the rutty road that no one escapes forever. He had been loved without limit, until love bumped the limits of death.
But love lives largest in the midst of death, as sure as sparks fly upward from a fire that seems to have sighed its last. When Barney’s person passed away, his person’s people rearranged their lives and their plans and the stars in the sky on his behalf. The aging orange noble would go from love to love, from safety to safety, from his family to the Tabby’s Place family.
Love acted fast.
Barney leaned in slow.
Barney would not have to gasp and gulp through any gap in belovedness. There would be no need to call in a COBRA on coverage for being cherished. He never went a moment without belonging to someone, belonging somewhere.
But the grand gestures that saved his life were not the love-language that spoke his name.
We’re big on grand gestures, we two-legged lovers. We throw weddings that cost an average of $26,000. We throw ourselves into trying to prove ourselves. We hurl poetry like thunderbolts. We spend money like water. We etch each other’s names into gold and crystal and platinum, assuming this means power and permanence.
All the while, we’d be better off carving hearts into pumpkins, carving kindness into quiet moments that no one will see but lover and beloved.
Barney didn’t know just what was happening when he came to Tabby’s Place, and he couldn’t know all the selflessness that had been spent on his behalf. But he knew — as you and I do, when we’re honest, which is one of love’s first demands — what made him feel loved.
It was the volunteer who contorted herself into a ferret to keep vigil by his side when he was afraid.
It was the staff member who figured out that he liked handmade blankets, and made sure to grab them from the dryer so he had a warm burrow in which to furrow.
It was the mysterious fingers that stroked his lustrous fur, even when he trembled. Especially then.
It was the strong hands that tucked a red-and-white dish of that chunky chicken into Barney’s chosen nook.
It was the eyes that met his, and met him in, and made the moment a masterpiece of being seen and known and loved right in his limitations and liabilities: his old age; his tempestuous thyroid; his preference for patchwork blankets and whispers over romping and parties.
It was all the attention paid to all the wee details that made Barney, Barney.
It was every minuscule moment when a lover made her way to the back of the barn, all the way where secrets live, where every precious pumpkin worries that she’s more liability than treasure, more mess than miracle, more tolerable than lovable.
Every precious pumpkin except Barney, of course. Being equal parts pumpkin, saint, and cat, Barney knew what we forget: every living creature is always lovable.
It’s just every other living creature’s job to figure out how to speak that love clearly. And if we listen to our burnt-sienna sage, the best advice might be: start small.
Small, like the ramekins of cherry Jell-O your Grandma made sure to have already made before you visited.
Small, like the playlist your wife put together of songs that made your eyes sparkle whenever they came on. (Small, too, like her not telling anyone that they include “Mambo No. 5” and “Macho Man.”)
Small, like the stitches your Mom used to make you a custom Halloween costume as Mister Toad from Wind in the Willows when you were four.
Small, like your roommate’s soft footsteps to avoid waking you when he gets up early.
Small, like the smile of the bus driver who remembers your nickname.
Small, like the shaggy tabby who sleeps on your left side because that’s where you get tummy aches. (She knows.)
Small, like the kitten who fits in your hand and fits her entire world inside your heart.
Small, like an average-sized, elderly orange cat who pays attention to what you love, and pays you back a thousandfold for the ways your love lives, and pays the entire universe a compliment by loving in the little ways that land and last.
Small, like the unsurprising day when Barney booked a ticket for his forever home. Shocking precisely no one, love barnstormed the pumpkin patch in short order. Today, we’re left with lingering long hairs, memories that make us merry and misty-eyed (couldn’t he have stayed to love us just a little longer? But love is selfless…), and a little lesson, large enough to save us all.
Let’s get glitzy with the grand gestures, sure. Let’s enjoy the postcard moments, the cruises and the weddings and the comets and the canyons. But let’s never think they substitute for the littleness where love lives. Let’s pour our huge hearts into the small sweetnesses that make a life.
Let’s lean in close.