There’s tinsel overhead.
There’s a Big Mouth Billy Bass with a Santa hat on the wall.
Mariah Carey is excitedly reminding us that all she wants for Christmas is us.
But there’s no disguising the fact that we’re in a waiting room.
I see you sitting there. You see me. We wave. We smile. We’re alone and together in this long advent.
We’re waiting for the light to shake out the dusty sky like a blanket, sending stars into our eyes and our cocoa cups. We’re waiting to give and receive little boxes with the huge mission of revealing our love. We’re waiting for the incarnation of hope. We’re waiting for beginnings and endings and new chapters and old friends.
The cats are waiting for that Big Mouth Billy Bass to flop off the wall. (They are exquisite optimists. And even if he’s not actually edible, it will be very satisfying to shut him up.)
But one cat is waiting especially well.
It was an ordinary day in 2021 when Tabby’s Place received a certain gift. The occasion was neither Chanukah nor Christmas nor The Feast of St. Frumentius. (Let the reader understand: when the latter comes around next year, I’m hoping Crinkle Bob will come back and give me his heart. I’m an exquisite optimist, too.) But simply because the universe is kind, we received a radiance too wonderful for any wish list.
You might say that God went to Jared.
And so Jared came to us, a glittering gift.
The gratitude was a little one-sided.
If he weren’t a cat, we might say Jared was jaded. Fresh from a feral colony, full of fears, he furrowed his brow and harrowed his blankets. Being a cat, he knew he was a gem; being a cat, he was incapable of abandoning hope; being Jared, he was jumpy, not inclined to jump the gun or jump into our arms.
Being wise, he knew how to wait well.
We, of course, are another species and another story, a tray of chaotic cookies with sprinkles and crumbs and expectations. We mean well; we wait poorly.
This is perhaps the main reason God went to Jared and Jared came to us.
If you are to love a cat like Jared, you must abandon all hope of a timetable, and embrace all hope of something more solid. You must remove your wristwatch; you must put your backpack for a long winter hike with switchbacks and surprises and sparse certainties.
You must talk softly, sing sweetly, stare into candle-gold eyes that give no guarantees. You must twist yourself like a shrimp on the Community Room floor, keeping quiet company with a cat who keeps his secrets. You must offer revolting food with tiny mutant desiccated shrimps in it. You must accept that your offerings — love and shrimps and songs — will sometimes be accepted, and just as often be rejected.
You must not abandon hope.
You must keep your jewel-box in your pocket, ready to propose at any time.
You must go to Jared, over and over and over again, until you love him so intensely, it’s ceased to matter whether or not he ever returns your sweetness in kind.
You must celebrate his trust — and 2022 was The Year Jared Busted Un-Trust — as it’s given, the arpeggios of purrs as you skritch his neck, the love that’s as quaint and quiet as a snowkissed village.
And then you must go back to your whiz-bang world, full of bosses and boyfriends and buzzards and buffoons, and bring Jared with you, like a gift, like a secret, like a saint, like a charm around your neck.
Because the things we think we’re waiting for — the present, the promotion, the certainty, the stuffed Minion — are seldom the things we really need.
(OK, you may need the stuffed Minion.)
Jared does not need to become an extrovert, a Crinkle Bob, a babe in arms. At Tabby’s Place, he’s a babe in toyland, and every tin soldier stands at attention to attend to his needs. All our waiting and working and waiting and wondering and waiting has worked the right miracles in the right time. And “the right time” is as far out of our hands as the North Pole, and the magenta North Face jacket we never got for Christmas 1996, and the North Star that keeps time and keeps faith and keeps our path from ever going dark.
Jared feels safe, and so can you and I.
Love waits, and love wins, and we’re all held in an unhurried hope that can’t fail, even when we do. (Which we will. See: invention of Big Mouth Billy Bass.)
Tabby’s Place tells the truth every day: whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever your own heart may take you, whatever you may be waiting for, you’re whole and wholly loved.
No change or merit or ten-carat capstone necessary.
At Tabby’s Place, your soul should always feel its worth.
And who can say what our waiting may bring? The day may come when Jared joins the League of Huggables. You may find a ring on your finger. Billy Joel may write “We Didn’t Start the Fire: 1980 – 2020 Edition.” Crinkle Bob may buy me a powder-blue Lamborghini and ask me to run away to Paris with him.
None of this may happen.
None of this is the real work of our waiting.
None of us needs to worry one whit. Jared doesn’t.
We wait and wonder and wrap our world in love. The things we want and the things we need make secret deals behind closed doors. Somehow, it’s all enough, and hope is born every hour we’re willing to wait on each other with love that doesn’t need to wait for answers to be the answer.
The answer to December.
The answer to jagged, jaded fears.
The answer to the wait that is life, constant question and constant answer, confusion and comfort all at once.
So let’s warm our hands around the firelight here in the waiting room. I see you. You see me. Jared sees us, and he sees our dogged, daft determination to love all the way and all the wait. And we all smile.