That’s how long it’s been since the invincible towers fell.
This grief is two years older than Tabby’s Place itself.
Tabby’s Place turns seventeen next month. The sanctuary is now old enough to make major life decisions on its own steam; old enough to understand complex philosophical arguments; old enough to have a heart that bleeds and a mind that understands and a soul that knows its worth.
But Tabby’s Place was not here (at least, not in flesh and steel, although the dreaming had taken its first steps) when another sort of sanctuary was shattered in 2001.
Until that bright and promising morning, we lived in an imagined sanctuary of strength and security. The terrible things that happened elsewhere called upon our prayers and our labors and our selfless generosity, sure. We wept and worked and poured ourselves out for the world. All the terrible things drew our empathy, but they couldn’t call upon our sympathy. We could imagine the sorrows, but not fully feel them ourselves.
And then we felt them, with the full force of steel and fire and searing terror slamming into our fortresses.
In the days that followed, we sought solace in sanctuaries literal and otherwise. We sheltered each other; we stood up for each other; we prayed and we wept and we carried more than we ever imagined we would have to bear.
We found havens in the midst of our hopeless situation. We knew that it was our — collective, shared, all-in-this-together — situation.
And by being all-of-ours, it became less hopeless.
Somehow we’ve forgotten, daft little wisps that we are, that it’s all still ours: the moment from nineteen years ago and all the moments since and yet to come; the people we agree with and the people we can’t fathom; the kindness and the cruelty and the splendor and the scaredy-child-shadows.
We need sanctuary now no less than then.
Two years after the terrible day, Tabby’s Place arose upon the land. Far from a tower, our stout little blue-and-orange building (its cheerful colors chosen pragmatically because they are among the few hues our color-blind founder can see) quietly settled in among cornfields and peaceful stretches of “nothing” in Ringoes, NJ, 65 miles and infinite worlds from Manhattan.
Ostensibly a “cat sanctuary,” Tabby’s Place has always been rather a lot more.
Yes: we are a sanctuary for cats from hopeless situations.
Yes: “cats” come in all species.
Somehow, seventeen years later, we’re still sheltering each other here. We forget and forget and forget that we belong to one other, but by some miracle of grace, the very presence of weaker, wiser beings reminds us. Under the gaze of cats who need us, cats who have suffered their own sieges of sorrow, we learn and relearn and relearn to embrace each other. We allow ourselves to be embraced.
Even across difference. Especially across difference.
Kittens, I can’t imagine what the next nineteen years will bring.
I’m quite confident that we will suffer, and we will rejoice;
we will careen close to despair, and we will never be far from hope, no matter how it feels;
we will feel the heat and stench of hell, and we will be held safe in the everlasting arms of God.
In all that we do, we will be more loved than we can ask or think or imagine.
And nineteen years from today, I pray and trust and believe with all my marrow that our sure sanctuaries will still stand tall and strong, even if they’re squat and silly and blue-and-orange.
Be kind to yourselves and each other today, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Remember that you are dust and glory. Remember that the grief and the gladness are ours — not yours, not mine, but ours.
Take shelter. Be a shelter. Never forget. Love ferociously.
May you find sanctuary, day by dreadful, dazzling day. And may you be a little Tabby’s Place to all you meet.
Note: All the cats pictured here lived with us in the very earliest days of Tabby’s Place. If my math is right (which is questionable), each one of them would have lived through 09/11/2001 before coming to us. They have all gone on to their reward, and in the quiet hours we can hear them cheering us on, reminding us of all they tried to teach us when they were here. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Top to bottom: Lilly, Erin, Lillian, Nuttin’, Hillary, Mittens, Dusty, Desi