Curiosity may, in fact, save the cat.
And I do not necessarily mean the feline.
It may be the gardenia-and-dahlia days of July, but some days feel like the tundra. You feel it, I know: a kind of crushed ice between the teeth of the world, perhaps your own soft heart between the teeth of the world.
Readers of this blog have a certain shade of watercolor-heart that bleeds and feels it all. The world scrunches itself into a giant fist before our eyes, eclipsing the midsummer sun. We shiver, we furrow our brows, we recommit ourselves to digging our own personal furrows in our own little patches of earth, watering them with our tears, willing zinnias to grow.
Our work matters, of course, and it needs tending. Our wounds and our weeping matter, and they need tenderness. But we are more than all of the above.
We are our hearts. And if our hearts still remember how to be curious, we just might re-garden the rocky world.
Of the million million reasons our spirits shoot like magnets to the solid strength of cats, one of the greatest is their interest. I don’t mean that they are interesting, although they are infinitely that; I don’t even mean their interest in us, although that’s enough to replant the most scorched soul.
I mean their vested, vibrant, valiant interest in life, even if life has been littered with crushed ice and crushing blows.
Shaggy, by any measure of reasonableness, should have folded up his little curiosity shop many moons ago. Time had taken most of his teeth; the inscrutable gears of history had chewed up any sense of safety. At an age when most cats should be eating sardines out of a personalized dish, laying on a fleece blanket that says Most Loved Mancat, and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation marathons with their smitten families, Shaggy was bedraggled onto the mystery machine, rolled from uncertainty to uncertainty.
Life was not interesting; life was just mean.
Or so a smaller creature would surmise.
But the tired, tie-dyed van rolled into Tabby’s Place, and the next thing we knew, Shaggy was ours. Unneutered, uncomfortable (courtesy of raging skin issues), undaunted (courtesy of a bonfire spirit), he was a packet of petals and perplexity, a bouquet of curiosity, all eyes and all heart and all intense interest.
Even in the afterlife of the Good Years, seemingly banished from summer forever, Shaggy was besotted by the mystery of being.
And he wasn’t alone.
Shaggy boarded the bus with a best friend, one Velma Rosenberg. Underweight, over the age of 180, and over the legal limits of cuteness, Velma, too, rolled into our parlor high on fascination.
She was not hung up on having had and lost a home; she did not have time to hang her head in sorrow; she was by no means ready to hang up her party dress for the last time. Her past was freezer-burned, but she was fully present to her present, and presented her future to us as a gift.
Their hearts and eyes and third eyes were open — you know, the ones that see what only saints and angels and children and forest fairies see, the curious eyes that can gaze a warmer world into being.
Despite all they’d endured, two old cats still wanted to love the whole entire world, starting with us.
And they would start by being curious.
Everything was interesting.
Toppling water bowls were interesting. (Enough to knock over thirty thousand times. “Let us irrigate this goodly land and bring forth a harvest!” said Shaggy. “It is linoleum!” said Velma.)
Pill Pockets were interesting. (Enough to eat. “Cats are supposed to find Pill Pockets insulting to their intelligence!” said Velma. “I want to make the humans feel goodly about themselves!” said Shaggy.)
Feeling the resurgence of one’s own powers was interesting. (“I have been strengthened by shredded poultry and shall now conduct experimental dance when pilled!” said Shaggy. “The humans prefer when you do not make them bleed!” said Velma.)
Limits were interesting. (“I shall enter the luminous Lobby by transcending the window!” said Shaggy. “You are a solid object!” said Velma.)
Family was interesting. (“Our kinsman Juel has now joined us at Tabby’s Place!” said Shaggy. “He is strong, and wise, and handsome, and toothless, and brought all of his Andrea Bocelli CDs!” said Velma.)
(About Juel: the latecomer among these lilies was perhaps the most curious of all. “I love paper towels!” said Juel. “I love purring!” said Juel. “I love eschewing litter boxes!” said Juel. “I love that the word ‘eschew’ rhymes with ‘cashew!'” said Juel. “Juel is vapid!” said Velma. “That’s what makes him great!” said Shaggy.)
Deep discussion was perhaps the most interesting (although deep-dish anchovy pizza was not on the menu, or else it would have taken the top slot).
Shaggy, Velma, and Juel came into fullest bloom when talked or crooned or cooed at. Within thirty seconds, their starry senior eyes would make you — any “you” and “who” in sight — feel like the most scrumptious Scooby snack this side of Andrea Bocelli.
They were furiously curious, and so they filled our fields with flowers.
Next thing we knew, we felt our own third eyes fluttering open.
Maybe everything can be okay, because everything can be interesting. We knew this wisdom once, and three old cats can take us back to our younger days.
You remember those days.
We were not quite three feet, six inches tall, and we asked people their names and their ages and their second favorite colors.
We marched our miniature animals across paper towels (“I will pee on them!” said Juel).
We tired of Disney but wrote our own secret Shakespearean parodies called Omelet: Prince of Breakfast and A Midsummer Night’s Ice Cream. We saw fairies in our backyards and lions in our kittens and all the goodness that still remained in each other.
It still remains.
The world is still wild and fascinating. You can, if you choose, educate yourself on the world’s oldest pants, or the varieties of iridescent squid, or the fact that mushrooms talk to each other, or why your Dad believes what he does, or what gives your neighbor hope, or what it means to be a neighbor.
Curiosity might save the whole neighborhood, if we’ll let it.
Let a thousand zinnias bloom, kittens.