The world is a lot less stardusted today.
A great constellation has fallen: “great,” in every sense except size.
Mishush was the littlest of our Manhattan cats, a Hobbit among elves and emperors. But the wisp of black smoke was a whisper of a great bonfire.
Size was the first thing you noticed, of course. Mishush was small enough to pass as a kitten, convincing none less than our Executive Director to “return” her to the Kitten Suite when she escaped (and causing no small amount of cackling and human-heckling in her real home, Suite A).
But size was the least interesting thing about the cat from the crowded shelter, the cat who shared her history with many and her heart with all.
As it turns out, sharing — lavishly, recklessly, exuberantly — was the most interesting thing about Mishush.
Despite her mishmashed insides, a cauldron of ghastly gastrointestinal issues, Mishush was a midget on a mission. Her oversized eyes, bouncing green planets, had glimpsed greatness that most of us miss. She would not stand still and let us sit in ashes when there was starfire to be seen.
After all that she’d endured — a rotten roll of the medical dice, a riotous race through the New York shelter system and on to the pork-rolled plains of New Jersey — she still believed that the skies overhead were smiling, and she was determined to drag us into the light.
And so she became our tiny torchbearer.
If your day was dark and the sun itself was smirking at you, Mishush was your light. You could slip into Suite A and count on compassion. Within moments of your arrival, a bird-sized cat would light on your shoulder, expertly styling your hair with her face and paws, expertly restyling your sorrows with her sweetness.
Given the opportunity, Mishush would make haste to make merry in the hall. Escape artistry is common at Tabby’s Place — there are, after all, rumors that the back halls are paved with provolone — but there was nothing common about Mishush’s mischief. Glancing back at you, she was your instant co-conspirator: “Let’s find the party. Let’s find the light. Let’s be the light. Let’s see how much provolone we can carry. And if you get tired, I’ll carry you.”
And she did.
A four-pound cat carried us.
For all her zest, Mishush was a mighty empath who knew when to put on the mellow music. You might have thought you were holding her, caring for her (many) medical needs, swaddling her like a baby. But in fact, you were being nurtured, noticed, loved back to life by the littlest cat with the biggest heart.
If you ever experienced this yourself, you’ll immediately know what I mean. Mishush had faith in you when your mind ran tumbling runs. Mishush did not shush your sadness and tell you that it could be worse, that you could be stricken with rickets or forced to thumb-wrestle The Rock or to listen to Kid Rock. Mishush was happy when you were happy.
Mishush listened to your secrets. Mishush listened to your Kate Bush records with you. Whatever your private poetry, Mishush listened.
To be Mishushed was the very opposite of being shushed.
Mishush did not make haste over your harrowed or happy heart; she made time, made tenderness out of thin air, made the air itself sweet as we all stood together under kindly skies.
Which is why none of us were ready for today.
Mishush battled medical monsters for so long, I think we almost assumed she would always prevail. Our littlest lark was seemingly born fighting fires, unable to hold onto her weight or her lunch, yet always able to love her life and make us love our own. The cat who restored the fire in our bellies had exploding stars inside hers. But we did what we could, and Mishush was comfortable and cherished.
So incredibly cherished.
There is a wall of images emblazoned in my memory: nearly every one of my selfless, soulful coworkers holding Mishush tight in their arms, wrapped in a blanket like a child of promise. I saw it a hundred times in a hundred contexts, their smitten smiles melting into her blissed-out face. Their goodness and hers mingled in a flame of tenderness that never goes out.
Tenderness can come with a tall order and a piercing call. Finally, not even matchless medical care and constant cherishment could keep up with Mish’s lymphoma. Everything Mishush did became an effort; even eating shredded chicken from the hands of beloved staff members was too painful. Love’s demand was all too clear.
The great bonfire roars mercy, just as sure as sparks fly upward.
So when Mishush made it clear that her sparkle was needed skyward, we had to keep love’s hardest promise. Yes, Mishush: we would adore you to the utmost. We would walk onward, together, even out where the stars go dim, where we all feel small, where love would mean unswaddling the sprite who gave us back to ourselves.
And somehow, even on this starless night, we get to keep ourselves, and our Mishush. No one can take this bond. No one who ever loved Mishush will ever be the same.
Come to think of it, maybe Mishush’s size is one of the most interesting things about her. Maybe Mishush’s mission has been to remind us that it’s the littlest ones, the least “impressive,” the baby mice and strawberry begonias and bird-sized black star-cats, who are humble and nimble and hearty enough to hold larger, louder creatures together.
She stood on our shoulders, but today we stand on hers. Her constellation has twinkled off beyond the veil, but her torch is in our hand.
May her mission become our own.
May we be impish enough to insist on mercy.
May we run into the hallways with hope in our eyes every single time.
And may we be forever “Mishushed,” made sweeter, braver, better, truer.
Until we meet again, we adore you and we thank you, Shushie.
Mishush’s final day on earth included a garden party with some of the people she loved best (including Drew, pictured here). May you bloom forever, beautiful baby girl.