Sometimes you just can’t do it for the cat.
So you do it for the kitten.
It’s easy to forget, looking at an unkempt coat or cloudy eyes or a raging river of runny stool (I know you come to this blog for nothing so much as idyllic imagery), that every cat was once a kitten.
It’s easier to forget, staring down the mirror or the timeline or the unruly garden of your mind, that you were once a kitten.
When it comes to cats, we’re good at assuming innocence. I do not, of course, mean innocence when it comes to high crimes and misdemeanors. We are under no illusions that, say, Alvin is “innocent,” as traditionally defined, when he attempts to impale far larger cats with the business end of his claws and ego.
We do not imagine a halo, cockeyed or otherwise, over the head of Bellamy when he brings down hellfire upon actual innocents like Rose and Pepita, all whilst screaming “burn the documents!” and urinating in peculiar places.
But at no time do we survey these rapscallions and conclude, “you’re unworthy of affection.”
“You need to toughen up.”
“No dessert for you.”
“You cats should be ashamed of yourselves.”
(Even if we were so daft as to say the latter, the cats would dissolve into a raging river of laughter. “Cats! Shame! The same sentence! Humans are hilarious lentil-brained bagelheads!”)
Still, there are times when tenderness is, frankly, tough. It’s OK to be honest with ourselves about this. When you’ve bathed someone’s bottom for the fortieth time this week, or encountered only arrogance and insolence for all of your doting, you can find yourself frustrated.
This is the hour when Love discovers whether or not it’s worthy of its name.
At Tabby’s Place, we’re blessed to be in a position to keep our cats forever. If they aren’t adopted, they’re ours for all of their days. This gives us the delight and the demand of loving long-timers through changing seasons. And when we’re honest — let’s always be honest with each other here — some seasons feel sweeter than others.
We can all recall the days when Boom, bright-eyed and plush-coated, vaulted himself like a meteorite across the skies of Suite B. The tiny trebuchet was diarrhea-prone but undaunted, a conquering clown with nary a care.
The years have been both kind and unkind to Boom. Kindness itself has kindled a quieter fire in his heart, melting the edges of his madness into a devotion we strive to return in kind. But time has taken its toll on Boom’s bony body and gastrointestinal labyrinth. He can’t keep clean. We can’t keep weight on him. Sometimes, he’s gross. Sometimes, those big eyes blur into a weariness that worries us. Sometimes, we just get weary.
We don’t often talk about the slog of love (although this would be an excellent band name).
Starry-eyed simpletons like myself are over-prone to sing about love’s lushness, the flower-strewn path of irrevocable belonging. But this is not the full story of love, or else love would be a wispy scrap of wax paper. Sometimes, the day-in, day-out drudgery of devotion is hard, and dull, and tiring, and tough on the heart that thinks itself immune to resentment or fear.
But into precisely those shadows, there falls a shaft of light. All at once, stooped over today’s forty-eighth puddle of excrement, or wringing your heart at the sight of a cat who you can’t deny is running out of years, you see it.
You see the kitten.
You see baby Boom, a minky mercy who could fit inside the hollow of your hand. You see eight-year-old Boom, all bravado and buffoonery, Suite B’s answer to Gaston. You see Boom, the buddy, the beloved, the one who’s shared your years and your tears (we shall not speak of all the secret moments that unfold between human and cat behind suite doors).
You see the sum total of your shared history, and your cup of compassion is refilled until it rages in rivers of grace.
And you do it — the agonizing, hands-and-knees, signing-up-for-inevitable-heartbreak “it” — for the cat who was a kitten, the bundle of years who is still a babe in the woods.
He’s been our loyal light-force.
He’s the same saintly scamp who carried us over rivers of lava and life.
He needs us now more than ever.
And the slog of love will vault us to the occasion.
Maybe, occasionally, even when the old, needy cat in question is us.
Don’t tell me you don’t know what I mean.
There are hours and days and long, gaspy years when we can’t quite stomach the awkwardness or the backwardness or the stubbornness or the stomach we see in the mirror. We see changes we don’t like; we can’t make the changes we would like. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
And so we deny ourselves dessert.
We are impatient and indelicate with ourselves. We condemn the creatures that we are. We forget that we are creatures at all, fashioned by love, value undimmed by years and errors, not placed on the discount rack no matter how much we discount and dismay ourselves.
We forget that we are still kittens.
But maybe we can hear a booming reminder over the condemnation chorus.
Maybe, if we can’t speak kindly, sing lullabies, and proffer patience for the 17-year-old or the 38-year-old or the 89-year-old who frustrates the fire out of us, we can do it for the kitten.
Picture hamster-sized Boom.
Picture kindergarten you.
Would you holler at them? Would you deny them delight? Would you leave them hungry or unbrushed or suspended in midair worrying over their worth? In their tantrums or their diarrheal debacles or their over-indulgences, would you punish them for being creaturely?
You wouldn’t, kittens. I know you well enough to know this, beyond question.
You would do the devoted thing, the tender thing, the long-suffering love-thing that alone is capable of saving the world.
So let’s do it for the little ones around us and within us.
Wrap your arms around the innocent, and rest assured all the saints and angels will support you as you do.
Be gentle with even the creatures who command your last driplet of patience. I guarantee that, as you eye-dropper it out, you’ll fall into a fresh supply, a laughing river of reliable love that will not let you sink.
Do it for the kitten.