Life is all about balance: work-life balance; maintaining one’s physical balance; having a positive balance in the bank; the balance of bilateral symmetry (overrated, but generally consisting of the likes of two arms and two legs; four legs; two eyes; okay, one nose, but with two nostrils; no idea how many gills, but on both sides of a fish face). Reciprocity is an important type of asymmetrical balance, and it’s one that we experience in great and gracious volume at Tabby’s Place.
The first Merriam-Webster definition of “reciprocate” is “to give and take mutually.” “Equally” and “identically” are not included terms. Normally, in finding balance, equal and identical can be very useful, especially in bookkeeping. Life and giving are way more complicated than that. Life and giving at Tabby’s Place are both more straightforward and also more and less complicated than that. That’s how it is when humans and cats come together to serve and be served through a mission of kindness.
Unlike with financial donations, the account balances of those who serve increase with the giving. Importantly, financial donations increase the account balance of the sanctuary, which enables all the other kinds of giving. Without financial support, the mission will fail. Service is another kind, and a very particularly kind, way of giving. Without service, the mission will fail.
The Tabby’s Place mission will…never…fail. Here’s why: YOU! Also, staff and volunteers and CATS! This brings us back to the beautiful and utter lack of symmetry that is the reciprocity found every day at Tabby’s Place.
For one thing, exceedingly lovely notes are often included with mailed-in checks and online credit card donations. Each note is a celebration of the work being done to help the cats, of the people who are doing that work, of the cats at Tabby’s Place, and of the cats or other loved ones of the donor. It is difficult to put a value on these messages. Key phrases are shared as broadly as possible – reminders that lives are being touched beyond the walls of the sanctum sanctorum; reminders that reinforce purpose and revitalize the mission.
The moment someone took to share a heartfelt thought ripples through the waters in a growing circle that touches every corner of the building and every being within. Also rippling through the building, across the TNR colonies, and over oceans to encapsulate cooperating shelters, are the sounds of service. From huffs and puffs of hard work and heavy lifting to cooing and ooooooo-ing during socializing visits, there is giving of physical labor and of time. More importantly, there is giving of kindness and love, just as with those generously shared notes. Some of this giving is measurable; some of this giving is entirely unquantifiable. So, how can reciprocity be determined?
Feelings are a big deal with reciprocity. Tit-for-tat, eye for an eye – these things are about being measurably equal. But, getting back to that Merriam-Webster definition, equal, in this very particular case of reciprocity, is absolutely irrelevant. With giving in kind and in service, the reciprocal is the appreciation, satisfaction, love, and kitty cuddles that flow back to the givers. What they receive is unaccountably amplified. We know, not by dollar amounts or hours served, but by feeling fulfilled and connected, by seeing a feral’s switch flip to “Yes, please! More pets and fish mush, please!,” and by the echoes of all of those messages that keep us united and reminded of the importance of the mission. These are the things that enable us all to donate again, to serve again, to be there against all odds and with the greatest hopes.
No matter how long a cat or kitten is with us, each one is cherished to the utmost. No matter how little or how much time we have with each one, what we receive by being there for them is more than enough to tip the scales out of balance and out of this world to the side of goodness and kindness with returns that far outstrip investments.
With the reciprocity of giving, balance sheets are useless tools. Debits and credits have no meaning. There is no way to end up in the red. Every single deed and every single cent is an asset of the highest order. Every heft, wipe, and restock more than replenishes the inventory of caring. Every purr, snuggle, and chirrup refills the account of kindness until it overflows. The kittens we cherish will have chances to grow up and become strong. The cats we rescue will have chances to find forever love. We hope to find them all forever homes. And, even if we don’t find a particular kitten or cat a private home, we will tabulate successes anyway.
A cat at Tabby’s Place, no matter how things are tallied, is already home.