Charly’s dear life

Charly’s dear life

I’m sorry, Charly.

I’m sorry you thought you had a handle on life, but it snapped right off the door.

I’m sorry that open doors closed.

I’m not sorry to see you again.

When we last saw our Beirut-born calico, Charly was smiling her way out the door into a home called “forever.”

She’d been to the bottom of the barrel, drank the dredges of sorrow, and shot like stardust into the life we want for every cat. She’d been found; she’d been chosen; she’d been cherished for all her Charlish charms.

Life was dear: precious, tender, spangled in sweetness.

But life was dear: costly, rare, fragile.

And no matter how tightly she held on, Charly could not control dear life.

After just months of marinating in each other’s love, Charly’s dear, devoted person passed away. Before the little paint-smudged cat could even wail into the wall, squeeze the doorknob for support, and gather her grief into a traveling bag, she was back on the Tabby’s Place train, landscape rushing past the windows and making her carsick, homesick, heartsick.

She held on for dear life.

She knew, this time, that you can’t hold dear life tightly enough to tether it to the ground.

As fragile and glorious as a hot-air balloon, it’s fixin’ to fly, and all you can do is make yourself at home in its basket.

It’s OK if sometimes that means you have to become a basketcase.

Borne back into our care, Charly wasn’t exactly churlish — that’s not the snowball-cat’s style — but neither was she calm, much less hopeful, much less open to the open doors and open arms that were too old and too new to feel like home again.

She held onto herself.

She held onto her dignity.

She held onto her blankets and her burrows and the bends and blazes of memory, whatever watercolor-portrait a cat’s memory may be.

She had learned — and we all learn, whether in pastels or black Sharpies, we learn — that she couldn’t hold on to dear life.

But that’s not bad news, you know. Because just when we finally let go, we find that we weren’t the ones doing the holding-tight, after all. When our little flappy hands and paws grow weak, which they will, we find that dear life is more devoted to us than ever we were to it.

With life’s handle half-broken and loose between her pinto-bean toes, the trembling calico found herself in strong arms.

Love would open a door in the smooth, stony wall.

Life would declare her “dear” even when she felt she was done, defeated, dropped off at the last station, with no one waiting to pick her up.

The cost would be high, too dear for anyone to afford, but the life would be full again, even if Charly couldn’t see it, even if she was too weary to believe it.

We would remind her.

We would restore her.

We would refill the cup in her trembling paws. We would demand — quietly, room by room in Castle Charly — that she feel the full weight of being our darling, our delightful, our dear.

And, in the mysterious exchange of mercies that marks every day at Tabby’s Place, she would do the same for us.

I’ve heard it said that, if we could all unpack our sorrows and our “stuff” and schlump it down in the middle of the room, one great pile of problems and the overcoming-of-them, we would, one by one, silently take back our own. We’re not meant to bear anyone else’s exquisitely, inescapably, extraordinarily individual life.

We’re only meant to bear each other.

To en-dear each other.

And to turn the tissue-paper-thin life we share into something sturdier than loss and grief and mystery can ever puncture.

I’m sorry for the sorrows, Charly.

I’m sorry that we can’t see the full sun, not on this earth, not in this life.

But I’m not sorry you’re back.

You are indescribably dear to us.

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