Not everything free is worth the price.
If someone offers you free advice, a free towel emblazoned with the faces of all five members of N’Sync, or a “free food,” you’d best consult your most trusted advisors.
You might book your first appointment with Baby, the cat who looks like Paul Giamatti, is larger than Paul Bunyan, and agrees with St. Paul that love is patient, love is kind, and love means never having to say “I’m sorry, we’re out of pastrami.” (That verse was in one of the earliest manuscripts, Baby promises.)
Baby says take the advice, if the source is trustworthy.
Remember that every cat who ever lived is trustworthy, even if they can’t always be trusted, exactly.
They can be trusted to listen and love you and love you enough to tell you the truth, if not to refrain from murdering one another, systematically removing every single Equal packet from the box on your kitchen counter, or chasing their own tails until they throw the planet off its axis. But their advice? Solid. Sound. Sometimes saltier than pastrami. But such is the nature of trustworthy counsel.
Baby says take the towel, definitely, cento percento, no questions asked.
Baby says take to the hills when they talk about “free foods.”
It is my earnest hope that you have never personally been inflicted with the idea of “free foods.” If you have, you have probably been spending the rest of your life attempting to unlearn it.
I was introduced to this costly concept when I was nine years old, newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. In between lessons on practicing insulin injections on oranges and stuffed animals and my grandfather (I begged them not to make me stab Grandpa, but apparently this was necessary, and also made him laugh, so I suppose love is patient after all), I was indoctrinated into the realm of Free Foods.
I could not eat more than fifteen grapes in one sitting, but I could eat Free Foods.
I could not drink more than 1/3 cup of milk with a meal, but I could eat Free Foods.
I could not indulge in unmeasured Cheerios, but I could fill my baby belly with all the Free Foods I fancied.
Free Foods were my friends. Free Foods promised not to hurt me or hurtle my blood glucose over the moon. Free Foods were so low in carbohydrates and calories, they were almost all translucent.
Free Foods traveled arm-in-arm, eager to convince you that they belonged together, until you found yourself in the elementary school cafeteria eating pickles and sugar-free Jell-O bite for bite, pontificating on why this particular combination was the food of the angels.
(To this day, I can’t eat pickles without also tasting Jell-O in the back of my throat, or vice versa.)
This was 1990, and fortunately today’s little Type 1s are trained in a much more flexible posture towards food and life. But the Free Food prison throws down its bars in every life, in some fashion.
If it’s not about food, it’s about permission to take a bath or take a breath or take your vacation time; if it’s not about pickles, it’s about patience or pleasure or putting yourself…not even “first,” but at least somewhere in the pantheon of Creatures Who Count.
“Free Foods” flummox us all, and it’s enough to make you want to swaddle yourself in an N’Sync towel, or Baby’s arms, or a croissant the size of the sky.
Fortunately, there’s freedom from the concept of Free Foods, and Baby and his most bodacious co-counselors are eager to be our Founding Foodies.
When I first shared the concept of Free Foods with Baby, he cried, then he put his head in my lap, then he announced that he would be our personal George Washington, crossing the Delaware in a manicotti boat of justice and liberty.
He would free all the foods, for all the people.
He would do so simply by being trustworthy. And in the wordless way of cats, he succeeded. Immediately.
Beholding Baby and being beheld by his smiling pea-soup eyes, all was clear. We live to lavish the cats with sumptuousness, scrumptiousness, the savory and the splendid and the swanky. Although our respect for each Tabby’s Place cat begins at the level of “infinity,” it somehow only grows when we see them grab life by the butterhorns, feast with fire in the belly, baby their bellies with big meals and big love and big life.
We exult in their expensive tastes.
We pamper them with all that’s precious and plump and pleasing.
We would never toss them scraps we’d scraped up for free. Love is patient, love is kind, and love is lavish. Why don’t we remember that love is also trustworthy, even when turned to our own meek mouths?
Baby told me all of this just by turning to gelatin in my lap. But, being an honorable and humble advocate, he told me not to take it all on his authority. He handed me a hall pass and sent me to his cantaloupe-shaped colleague, one Cola Rosenberg.
When it comes to counselors one can trust, Cola is the real thing. When it comes to walruses one can hug, Cola is Tabby’s Place’s closest thing. And when it comes to smile-eyed saint-cats who want you to be kinder to yourself, Cola is the best thing since sliced salami.
Cola knows a thing or ten about kindness. She was part of the legal team from Luzerne, PA, relocated to Tabby’s Place to do us good. Together with fellow eminent enormities Hagrid and Albus (let the reader understand these are, in fact, real wizards), Cola came crashing through our hesitations and our hard-heartedness, insisting that we be heartfelt and hearty, even towards ourselves, even when we felt unworthy of it.
A cat of uncommon compassion, our central Pennsylvanian had seen “shelter life” and lived through lean years. But rather than letting the past turn her stringy and mean, she became larger, an orb of encouragement, anxious for nothing but to see everyone eat up and laugh it up and give up our fears of being too free.
Free enough to be patient with each other’s hungers and howls and hang-ups.
Free enough to be kind to the cold cans of pop dressed up as peculiar people.
Free enough to trust that the world won’t fall off its axis like an overripe orange if we take time to take care of ourselves.
Free enough to feast.
We do not need to corral ourselves behind the fences of Free Foods or thin mercies. Just like the cats, we are soft, belovable creatures worthy of patience and kindness.
And grapes. And croissants. And boy band beach towels. And the solid trust that there’s enough love and insulin and mercy to cover it all.
Let’s be set free.
Plump, paunchy, perfect postscript: 75% of the titans referenced in this blog have bounced off to their forever feasts. That’s right: Albus, Hagrid, and Cola have been eaten up by adopters. Baby, all eyes on you.