The difference between cats and the rest of us is that we forget what’s inside of us.
At best, we think of ourselves as oranges, fragile skin around sweetness.
Mostly, we think of ourselves as piñatas, not sure what lies within until the hour hits us. We hope we’re more than a momentary sugar rush. We wonder.
But cats remember: we are pecan pies made by grandmothers.
Nobody remembered like Rose.
The soul of the South, Rose came to Tabby’s Place from Virginia in 2013. She was a jaunty peanut just hours out of kittenhood, unconcerned by the long ride or the long odds that had landed her at the sanctuary for cats from “hopeless situations.”
“Hopeless” was nothing but an ingredient, the salt that adds balance and verve. A “situation” was nothing but a nut, even if it was tough to crack. And Rose was nothing but in love with everything.
I still recall the day I met her, a raisin-sized renegade running up and down the back hallway. No suite could contain her joy; no pie pan could contain her sweetness. She adored in all directions, as though she’d waited lifetimes for precisely this life.
This life: the same one in which she’d been hit by a car and hit by Cupid’s arrows.
This life: the same one in which she’d been left incontinent and left incapable of expressing all her gratitude.
This life: the lima beans and the lemon meringue, the sorrows and the squeeze-salmon.
No matter what happened, Rose refused to grow thorns.
Like the bud for which she was named, Rose contained the universe in miniature. Equal parts exuberant and serene, she had the peace of petals who know themselves to be united to all things. The solarium sun was her friend no less than the (many, many, many, many…many) volunteers and staff who held and kissed her. The birds were her beloveds. The cats were her kinfolk. The nights were as bright as day.
The pie was so very, very, very large, and we all got to be shamelessly sweet together.
Rose’s syrup was sincere, and she never tired of serving deep-dish nurture for everyone who entered the kitchen. She gushed without irony and gave more than she received. No one — not staff, not volunteers, not bemused dryer repairmen — found Rose without a fistful of blossoms or a fresh-baked pie, delivered in the form of purring, life-giving, lap-filling presence.
All of this earned Rose a decade-long spot on Jonathan’s to-do list. It’s true: on our Founder’s office whiteboard, right between items like “call dryer repairman” and “revise bylaws,” was “clone Rose.” While other items were erased, this one remained, year after year, a testament to the one thing Rose couldn’t do: fill every hour and location on earth with herself.
A lot can change in a decade, but Rose didn’t. If anything, her sweetness strengthened, getting baked in and browned by the broiler of years.
Perplexing medical issues menaced her, in 2019 even leading a specialist to suggest euthanasia. But Rose was unruffled. She simply rose to her feet, straightened her ruffled-and-ribboned diaper, and dove into dessert. A supposed “last meal” was merely the rusty gate to a new garden, which Rose would explore for years.
And in her light, we lightened up and learned to explore, too. Like a rose window, our Southern belle was the highlight of our cathedral, the fan favorite with sponsors on six continents. Notre Dame had nothing on our lady. We had everything as long as we had Rose.
Especially after she threw off death’s thorns in 2019, we believed we would have Rose forever. She was no longer young, but ever new. She was no longer quite as jaunty, but every bit as jubilant. If her radiance had once been half-raw, kitten-naive, now it was mellowed and mapled and all the more meaningful.
The bud was in full flower. The giddy girl had grown into a grandma. She was resplendent in ruffles and radiance.
We were dependent on Rose, more than we even knew.
So when petals began to fall, the consensus was, “NO.” NO, Rose would not be permitted to leave this earth. NO, we had not been sufficiently sweetened. NO, one decade was at least five too few. NO. NO. NO!
But if we’d learned anything from Rose, it was the perseverance of sweetness. It takes uncommon courage to be unceasingly kind. Only the brave make others feel beloved. Love doesn’t seek its own slice of the pie.
Love, at last, meant letting Rose go.
The gnawing neurological issues had left her so weary, so wilted. She wanted to stay, to take care of us, to place posies and pies in our hands. But Rose had to bear her bloom across the veil.
And we had to promise her we would bear up, down here. We would live in the light of the rose window. We would press fistfuls of flowers into shaky hands, doing it for Rose, doing it because we’d risen on Rose’s love.
We would remember our place in the world, united to all things. We would be pecan pies. We would be strong enough to be sweet.
Rose was the pie made by hands weathered by years and the wiping of tears, stained in flour and strong enough to grow flowers.
Rose was hope ever-blooming.
Rose was the sweetness inside every one of us, if only we’ll be brave.
May we refuse to grow thorns.