What if we all sat around the fireplace and pulled oysters and pearls from our week?
The cats would strongly prefer that we pull all the catfish out of all the bayous and dance like Kokopelli around the bonfire, but they’ll accept this pale substitution.
Back in the belly of my childhood, I was witness to a sweet ceremonial called Joys & Concerns. Since my own were limited to the acquisition of Applejack the My Little Pony and my cat’s subsequent acquisition of Applejack’s tail, I was not formally invited to this event.
But I would linger by the staircase as my parents and their fellow members of Some Group Of Old People From Church would unfurl their weeks:
“My son finished trade school.”
“My aunt fractured her collarbone while skateboarding.”
“My forsythia bloomed.”
“My willow tree died.”
“My prayers were answered.”
“My prayers felt like banging pots and pans against a stainless steel heaven.”
Even then, I knew I was glimpsing something sacred. Salving. Catlike, of course.
Peeking between the cattails, too young to understand vulnerability and too human to misunderstand courage, I got an early glimpse of Tabby’s Place.
A thousand years or so later, here I am, and here you are, and here the cats are, bumbling our way through the bravery of sharing our own Joys & Concerns.
Casual observers think, of course, that we are in the business of wall-to-wall joy at Tabby’s Place, a constant smorgasbord of fried catfish and golden hours and smiling chrysanthemums and Cheshire cats. And they’re not wrong: we know — and we strive not to take it for granted — that we’ve found ourselves in a tenderloin of tenderness here.
We get to cradle creatures that look like angelic Ewoks, vaulting them into long, happy, healthy lives: Cashmere. Burdock. Dandelion.
We get to coax wobbling willows into syrupy maples, helping souls to feel their worth: Mary Jane. Clarence. Glenn.
We get to rub armpits and shnoogle bellies all the way down to the freckles, a holy occurrence if ever there was one: Crinkle Bob. Baby. Rose. Crinkle Bob AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. (His Crinkle Bobligations are many, but he faileth not.)
We are obscenely rich in joys, and we share them with shouts of triumph.
But we’ll lose ourselves in the fog if we’re too proud to gather around the other fires. These sweet shores of ours are clammy with sorrow, and we need to claim that, too — together.
I don’t just mean the gasping grief that never leaves. In a way, the Big Sad is the easiest to share, as anyone who’s sobbed into a fellow weeper’s shoulder knows. When we lose a cat, we find soulmates everywhere at Tabby’s Place, eager to embrace and to exhale every memory of the cat in question. When we say goodbye — Bucca. Perseus. Faye. Bart. Mishush. Alvin — we’re at our closest, given permission to give ourselves to each other, all-in, heartfelt, wholly present.
But there are gerbil-sized griefs, too, shy rodents scrambling the seaside, looking for a little sustenance, a little listening, a little of the courage to tell of more tangled “concerns.”
We are concerned for the cats we can’t help, the ones whose stories sear our scales and leave us scarred. We remember the faces we couldn’t take, the cats beyond our capacity, the ones who remind us that we are limited, finite, flailing flickers.
We are concerned for the cats we can’t “heal,” whether in body or spirit, the ones who never “come around” in quite the way we’d choose. Wonton. Iris. Polly.
We are concerned for our own hearts, soft and bleeding things, foolish in the eyes of the “wise,” mucking about in the sand to save little starfish and sand dollars when we could be doing things that make us big stars or drum up many dollars.
We are concerned that we’re not doing enough.
We are concerned that we’re not enough.
We are concerned that, in the clutch, we can’t be counted on to do what counts.
Which is why we need to shimmer, catlike, and dare to count on each other.
If cats excel at anything (let the reader understand that cats excel at everything), it’s Joys & Concerns. When God created cats, God consciously omitted both opposable thumbs and opposition to their own hearts. One lack would keep them humble; the other would keep them honest.
And so it is that our long-tailed truth tellers can’t open their own cans of fish mush, but they can open up to each other, effortlessly.
Audrey is concerned about the chaos-clowns of Suite FIV, and she tells Tanner.
Ponce de Leon is concerned about how weird it feels to feel one’s age, and he tells Oram.
Roxy is concerned that friends keep frolicking off across the sea — are they adopted? abducted by giant mollusks? inaugurated as the Presidents of Slovakia and/or The International Association of Beefs Both Roast And Corned? — and she tells Steven.
They lack our pride and prudence, and so they share, and squeeze each other’s hands, and survive the snow-globe-shaking with seaside ease.
They are equally at home in the Joys and the Concerns, and they’d love for us to charge through the cattails, claim our place around the fire, and unspool our pearls and our pains into the pile. A pile shared is a pile survivable, and in the right firelight, every piece shines.
So let’s share it all.
Let’s dance like dervishes and weep like willows.
Let’s have the courage of cats to croon the full chantey, the joyous verses about catfish consumed and the lowly dirges of dreams dashed like sea glass.
Let’s be equal parts Joy and Concern, and entirely on each other’s side.
Preferably — Baby made me type this — with a side of sea lion.
Pictured from top to bottom, a parade of pure Joys: The Law Offices of Cashmere, Chenille, Taffeta & Suede; Dandelion; Mary Jane; Burdock; Iris & Nemo; Crinkle Bob; Roxy; Baby