October holds our hand so we’re not too scared to walk into the cold.
She blesses the dark with orange and gold. She Halloweens us.
And in November, we remember: we are always living in Times Like These.
In Times Like These, we are greedy for the past and flummoxed by the future. We want Honey back. We want our carefree summer-selves back.
In Times Like These, we sing about the shining ones. Saints wear smudged and sometimes smirky faces at Tabby’s Place, and it’s precisely their pipe-cleaner halos that make us feel safe.
There are the patient saints, the cats who permit us to dress them as dragonflies and tacos. (You shall be treated to their Vaudevillian holiness come Monday.)
There are the silver-lining saints, the endurers who assure us that life is luscious even when laden. Baby‘s branches may drip with the fat figs of diabetes and age, but his heart is light as a cloud. Antin‘s back legs may baffle him, but he’s more amused than confused. Fenek may be thronged with troubles, but they have a way of dissolving in the cocktail of comedy and compassion (garnished with tiny umbrellas and fish mush) that is Tabby’s Place.
Then there are the sly saints, the cats who confound us by collapsing every distinction between “rescuer” and “rescued.”
On more than one occasion, Grecca, the great shouting grackle of the lobby, has commanded the colors back to the sky.
On more than one occasion, Hips, hullaballoo on four legs, has performed CPR on humor, hurling our heavy hearts back home.
On more than one occasion, Josie, soft and sturdy, has served up date-nut-bread and cinnamon tea, curling around us like a grandmother’s arm.
On more than one occasion, the saints have gone marching out of our sight, and we have sighed and sobbed.
On more than one occasion, the very cats we think we can’t live without have forced us to do just that.
And then we find ourselves in Times Like These.
In Times Like These, we ask the “is it betters.”
Is it better to be prepared for goodbye with a long illness, to see sorrow coming from afar, like lightning in the desert? We think of Mortimer.
Or is it better to have minimal pre-grief, to be clobbered in one swing of the sword? We think of Pancake.
The answer is no.
None of it is better.
All of it is worse. And all of it — we know this in our Novembered bones — is wrong.
They should all still be here.
For all the soothing sayings about death being natural, something in us resists. Something in us reaches for a higher nature, a super-nature where forever means forever and “goodbye” just means someone’s gone out to pick up a pizza.
It’s this soulful something that spurs us on at Tabby’s Place.
We can’t defeat death, but we can remind it of its limits.
We can’t lasso the starry souls, but we can sing their songs in the dark.
We can’t stop the tears, but we won’t stop the feast.
We can’t freeze-dry spring, but we can learn to love this wintered world.
We are, of course, a crazy quilt of beliefs at Tabby’s Place, whether the topic at hand is Shaq or Yodels or eternal life. As Rumi said, “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again.” (On the right day, there are also nearly a thousand Yodels in our Lounge.)
I suspect even the cats exhibit the full spectrum of devotion and doubt, although their agnosticism and devotion pertain more to the transmigration of sausages than the afterlife.
But there’s not a soul among us who doesn’t enter November determined to remember.
And there’s not a remember-er in our ranks who doesn’t believe it’s worth it.
It’s worth it to swaddle all the souls, the scrap-metal Stevens who stay and stay, and the tissue paper Pancakes who slip the veil too soon.
It’s worth it to remember.
Worth it, and utterly necessary if you intend to save your soul.
Every one of us, if we live long enough and love recklessly enough — which is to say, love anything with a limited number of heartbeats, anything with fur or flesh or soul — will be reduced to embers. We will reach an hour when we feel we are simply not strong enough for Times Like These, losses like these, questions and chasms like these. Nothing can make it better. Nothing. Nothing.
And then the saints and the souls will surround us.
As luminous as life, Rose will be there, figure-eighting our legs. As warm as winterlight, Lynette will come into view, a wisp of color and comfort. As poetic as comedy, Boom will joust our gloom, salty as he shakes us: “I’m here! We’re all here! And you’re here, in a world of meteors and walruses, Funyuns and frisbees, thousands of striped saints and souls who seriously need you. Now go feed them! Feed them twice for me!”
And the great cloud will cuddle us like kittens.
And November will burst into brilliant brassy hope.
And Times Like These will become the times for which we were born.
And somehow, somehow, we will be reborn.
And together, together, we will walk into the winter.
And forever, forever, it will be worth it.
Saints and souls pictured from top to bottom: Crinkle Bob, Fenek, Antin, Grecca & Hips, Josie, C.B., Lynette, Steven, Boom