Not everything that happens is good.
Loss lurches across all of our borders. Stores continue selling high-waisted jeans. Mumford and Sons refuses to make new music. Diagnoses drag us through canyons of mud.
But everything that happens has the prefix “Professor,” if only we’ll show up for class.
Let the record show that I have no idea what Professor High Waisted Jeans is trying to teach us, much less Chancellor Flamin’ Hot Takis (although he’s really just an adjunct).
But when it comes to most miseries and miscellaneous misfortunes, there’s a light or at least a lesson wrapped in the wonkitude. It may be like one desiccated anchovy hidden deep within layers of limp lettuce, but it’s in there.
And if we’re as wise and bountiful as Baby, we’ll find that anchovy every single time.
At first blush, Baby is the sort of striped basketball who will make your entire essence blush with bliss. He is not young, but he is the very antithesis of old. When I saw a headline about “the ancient potato of the future,” I was certain someone had written about this cat.
And many someones, from the Paris Review to the New York Times to Food Network Magazine, should: he is the size of an Airstream, and his heart is large enough to carry you and your ten best friends cross-country. His eyes are always smiling, and if he were a person, he’d have the kind of grin so uncontrollably huge, it would make his eyes squeeze shut. He’s floppy and merry and mystically gifted with the ability to lop sadness clear off the end of your day, as though he were snapping into a Slim Jim.
Let the record show that Baby would be very, very, very grateful if you would bring him a Slim Jim.
Unfortunately, Baby’s diet and his days are restricted by a certain unhappy happening: the blobbular, jocular tabby has been tackled to the grass by diabetes.
As with humans (exhibit A: your pancreatically impaired author, Type 1 since 1990), so with cats, diabetes is an eminently survivable condition. Furred or otherwise, creatures can live quite elegantly with the disease (here I most emphatically do not refer to your pancreatically impaired author), enjoying a normal lifespan peppered with discomfort.
But you and I know that discomfort, large or small, is enough to smash our smiles into cornflake powder.
And when he comes with his cane to prod us up our own personal mountains, Dr. Discomfort can appear more “sadist” than “sherpa.”
An unkind word can unravel your day.
A stomach ache can rake all the flowers out of your garden (and make you vow never to take another class from Professor Flamin’ Hot Takis).
And the Big Sads, like diabetes or loss? They can be powerful jerks, snuffing out all the candles in your castle simultaneously.
Good and bad things have happened to us all; good and bad things will happen again.
But we don’t have to be babies about it. We can choose to be Baby.
Once a happening happens, falling onto your shoulders like sunshine, into your hands like a snowball, or onto your head like a piano in an old cartoon, it’s yours to work with.
And although he looks like an especially sleepy form of marine mammal, Baby knows how to work.
When his life was unceremoniously invaded by insulin injections and blood glucose checks and a menu bereft of Slim Jims, Baby took notes.
Professor Diabeetus (who looks remarkably like Wilford Brimley) was doling out delicacies that could be found on no other syllabus.
Somehow, through his sorrows, Baby became sweeter. I’m not using a cheeky diabetes metaphor here; this is simply and literally the case.
When life lurched weirdward, Baby lunged towards love.
Everything he experienced could make him bigger or smaller, brighter or dimmer. He could cower beneath the couch, hurling epithets and anathemas at invaders. He could turn careful and cautious, calculating every risk and weighing every expenditure of the heart. He could sign up for an endless semester of cynicism, resigning himself to bide his time until time was up.
But Baby is a far more bountiful being.
He studied the skies he was suddenly under. He sashayed and sunshined and shook us free from sourness. He took electives in Deep Delight and Generous Gush and also Jazz Dance. (He did not attain a 4.0 GPA, but that doesn’t matter.) He lit up our Lounge with blubber and benevolence and unsinkable kindness, the kind that makes kindling-brained cautious creatures like you and me turn towards love faster than you can say “beat the ‘beetus.”
He marveled so exuberantly at everything that happened — “there were BIRDS! at the FEEDER! AND human beings being strange and glorious every day, without fail, oh so strange and oh so glorious! OCCASIONALLY PERSONS DROP MEAT PRODUCTS UPON THE SANCTIFIED FLOOR! The blue mouse has a BELL INSIDE! Blankets EXIST! ONCE I SAW A SOMETHING CALLED A LEAF AND IT WAS CRUNCHY!” — that we remembered the world is, in fact, marvelous, and terrible, and terribly marvelous.
Baby got his PhD in Prevailing.
And he keeps on teaching us, gushfest by purr-puddle by wide-eyed wonderment at an ordinary Wednesday, that we always have a choice.
We know, in the wee wise voice in each of our bellies, that we’ll always be able to handle the happenings. We have faced the terribles, and here we are to tell about them.
But we can do so much more than hang on.
Even as we cry over the cracks and crinkles — and we can, and we should, and we must — we can encounter them as coaches and callings.
The happenings that hit hardest have harrowed other lives, too. And your heart is as sacred and as shimmering as Baby’s, every bit as capable of letting every last lesson turn you to love.
We can spite stringy sorrows by spinning them into mercy’s gold.
We can comfort with the comfort we’ve found.
We can choose wonder, and trust, and the kind of smile that makes your eyes squinch shut.
Even if you’re not sure how. Even if you need help after class. Even if everything is changing so fast, you have to write your own name on your hand with a Sharpie. Even if you need insulin or affection or a reminder that the morning will always kiss you anew. Even if your feet break faith with the earth.
If one brilliant cat the size of the Yukon Territory can do it, so can we.
So let’s be Baby-bright, a stubborn convocation of lovers in a world of happenings.
Let’s be the goobers who can sincerely, earnestly describe a hand soap as “life-changingly delightful.”
Let’s glimpse sparkling toads that then turn out to be dried leaves, but still count it a victory because we had the tickling experience of a toad-sighting anyway.
Let’s get excited about the way a Q-tip feels in your ear, and the fact that there are meteor showers almost every month of the year, and the fact that we’re all still here, together, simultaneously brave and crazed enough to realize we need each other.
Let’s sashay across our Lounges and our lives with the determination to use it all as fodder for grace.
Let’s take cynicism in our arms like a shivering kitten, and hold it tenderly ’til it grows up to become hope.
Let’s make our many professors proud.
Let’s Baby each other and this world.