Durin‘s immune system leaves a bit to be desired.

Durin’s track record has left no desire unfulfilled.

When you first look at Durin, your mind says “sturdy.” There’s that head like a potato, cheeky and plump. There’s the smile that never wanders far and always comes back in time for dinner. And rippling up and down his spine, the spark of the divine, a durable magic that expresses itself from the ease of his eyebrows to his talkative tail.

But then he turns, and behind the cheery cheeks is a slip of a cat, big heart in a humble body. There’s no butter on the baked potato, no extra layers under his sweater. Those earnest eyes have seen more than they say. He’s puffed and chuffed by your soft touch because he remembers snuffling the hard ground.

And then you remember that Durin is very, very fortunate to be here.

For Durin has endured days like stones, and winters without feasts.

There was a day in Durin’s past when he developed FIV. Spread exclusively through bodily fluids, feline immunodeficiency virus is generally the province of puckish thugs, unneutered hoodlums who chomp each other like cheese sticks on the feral side of town. (Durin tells me this is two blocks east of “the cheatin’ side of town,” a half mile from Old Town Road.) If Bad, Bad Leroy Brown had been feline, he would have been FIV+.

But Durin is a good, good little spud.

And sometimes bad days happen to good cats.

There was a day in Durin’s past when he entered the veil of the virus. If FIV is an inconvenience, a retrovirus that wreaks little havoc, FeLV (feline leukemia virus) is an iron giant, a gnashing, smashing machine that scallops sweet potatoes. FeLV keeps its secrets, as some cats thrive for years while others succumb quickly. FeLV shares itself like spray-cheese, spread between cats as friendly as French fries in the same pouch. FeLV stops the music at most shelters, where a positive test is a catastrophic failure, leading to the end of all beginnings.

But Durin is a winning beginning.

And sometimes endings happen at the center of the story.

There was a day when Durin’s goodness got up close and personal with grief. To mourn, one must have loved, and we have no doubt that Durin knew kindness in his days before. But love is meant to be durable, and every cat’s dream is a night light that will stay on. We aspire not to judge, for we can never know how life rolls and roasts another soul. Whatever the reason, Durin’s people went up in smoke.

But Durin is the spark of the divine.

And sometimes the light is glowing even when all seems dark.

Potato roots don’t need light to grow, and Durin didn’t need proof to dream. And so it happened that we were sadder for Durin than Durin was for Durin.

A flannel-clad uncle in feline form, Durin took to comforting us before he even took off his cardigan. “I’m fine, taters!” he promised, plopping his woolly hat on our heads. (It was too big for anyone on the staff. Durin has the 2023 Giant Cranium Of The Year award locked up.) “I’m here, and you’re here! Here, have some mashed potatoes. Here, have some mashed laughter. Here, have some mashed expectations. They’re the only kind available, but they’re good with butter.”

We’ve been melting ever since.

But how has Durin stayed warm through his winters, unscorched by his fires, unvanquished by his viruses, or his heart disease, or his heart’s unmet yearning for a personal provolone armoire?

How has such a clobbered little car stayed on the track?

Easy. Or, rather, simple, but not at all easy: he’s remembered his track record.

Durin was bitten, but not annihilated.

Durin was scared, but not shattered.

Durin was infected, but not engulfed.

Durin was left, but not abandoned.

Durin’s worst days had their way with him, but still he stood. Still he loved. Still he shone. Still he hoped.

(Still, too, he had the company of Miriel, which would be enough to turn a gulag into Mardi Gras.)

Still he believed that he would be beloved. How else to explain just chuffed and puffed he is today? How else to explain his buttery bliss, or the way he wields his warmth like a blanket over everyone he meets?

He’s not surprised; he’s not bashful; he’s harvesting the crop he always knew would come.

Which, I suppose, makes us his tiny taters.

Love is durable, and Durin is here to give us all strength. May our track record be every bit as tasty, even when the winter is long.

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