There are times when you look like a mighty oak, but if a passerby should sneeze, you would collapse into a molehill.
There are times when everyone marvels at you as you manage departments and families and budgets, but what you need more than anything is to play with scissors and construction paper and crayons on the floor.
There are times when you need to toil, and times when you need to be toiled over. Tenderly.
With all apologies to the guy who sang “All I Do Is Win,” we all do a heck of a lot other than winning.
We flail like giant inflatable tube people, while hoisting giant foam fingers over our heads to convince ourselves and each other that we’re number one. We are weak and half-hearted, at least half as often as we’re golden and unstoppable.
Truth be told, we’re always stoppable. But there’s a sturdy stopper for our bottle of tears. We just don’t like to hear it.
At least, not when it comes to ourselves.
We’re happy to bring forth the gentle, generous gobstoppers when it comes to cats. The more we love them, the more we warm the world to welcome their weakness.
We do not expect cats to “crush it.” We do not admire their hustle. We do not calibrate our pride based on their productivity. We don’t remind them, “you got this!”
They do not “got this.” But we got them, and vice versa, which is far better.
To be a Tabby’s Place cat is, inherently, to be weak and needy. Our mission exists for no one but those “in hopeless situations,” and cats carry their hopelessness without shame.
Sometimes that hopelessness hulks our hearts apart like a thin T-shirt torn down the middle by a large man roaring “BLARRRGHHHH!” Marley was made to be loved, a mushable water balloon of a tabby with sea-glass eyes and a glass-bottom-boat heart, through which you could see all the way to Atlantis.
But the magical land of Marley’s dreams had been waterlogged by woe. Years after her adoption, “forever” flung itself ashore, beached and gasping for air.
Having once been a Tabby’s Place cat, Marley was always a Tabby’s Place cat, and so we welcomed her back without question, without expectation, without any reasonable limit on our affection. One hundred percent of our love was available faster than a 90-second packet of microwave ramen.
It is a funny and fearsome thing, how quickly one heart can halo another. Before she’d even had time to survey the salty sea of the Lobby, Marley was already beloved. We adored her instantly, helplessly, and her very helplessness made her our treasure.
The early days were not easy. Marley got rid of all her old Bob Marley records the moment she saw the scurvy crew in the Lobby. Every little thing was not going to be alright. Yes, woman; yes, cry! Jammin’ would have to wait. There was room here for precisely one love, which meant that Anka and Olive and Valerie and Rose and the whole lurching lot of them would have to be evicted.
Marley’s weakness included a weariness with her own species, made all the soggier for a sadness she couldn’t seem to shake.
Marley did not have everything under control.
But we had her under our wings, and so she had nothing, nothing, nothing to worry about. And, being one hundred percent cat, she didn’t.
Not the future.
Not the past.
Not the theoretical failure of love to scrape her off the floor and into good arms when the Big Sad screamed.
Marley did not need to work or push or crush or prevail. Marley simply needed to need, and her need would be met. And in rubbing our hands together and placing them on her shivery cheeks, we found that her “weakness” made us warm.
A few rooms away, on an astral plane all her own, Malora made us make the same discovery.
On the long road to Tabby’s Place, the granite-grey cat had dropped so many precious pebbles, she panicked. Not a single soothing worry stone could be found in her pockets, and she felt like anything but a rock star. Her courage crushed to talc, the silvery cat with the baby-powder-soft heart needed, and needed, and needed.
But unlike you and me, Malora felt no need to shame herself for her needs. If anything, she exclamation-pointed them, cross-stitching a veritable “HELP ME LOVE ME SOOTHE ME” on all the throw pillows. She pulled out so much of her own hair, you could weave a blanket big enough to cover and comfort the whole world.
Which is precisely what Malora did for the world of Tabby’s Place…but only by letting her weakness warble loud and clear.
Loving Marley and Malora, we’ve looked straight in the spinning eyeballs of our own hearts. It turns out there’s more than we’d previously seen in there, more than the expected Almond Joy wrappers and scraps of Taylor Swift songs and self-soothing stories about our steely strength. There’s sweetness, and patience, and tenacity, and threads of gold. Also imperfection, and impertinence, and impatience.
But the overall scene in there? It’s remarkably…beautiful.
And it took two selflessly needy cats to tilt the mirror for us to see.
“Selflessly needy” sounds hinky, I know. But it takes a strong soul to need out loud, to trust both that your needs will be met, and that you’re giving your loveys a present by letting them be the need-meeters, the mercy, the melody that keeps the heartbroken world on its axis.
To need is to offer the painstakingly-wrapped gift of being needed.
Of course, this is a gift exchange that must be repeated daily.
Our sweet M & M are as needy today as they were yesterday. Marley is still miffed at felinity;* Malora still tilts at terror and only sometimes wins.
You and I are still limping along too, trembling and triumphing and truth-telling and tumbling down the stairs. But like lilies and ravens, Marley and Malora neither toil nor stockpile. They know, at the deep level of cats, that love will do the toiling for them.
Some days we will be the toilers; some days we will need the tender toil of other hands. On our best days, we’ll own it all, wonderstruck in our weakness, gentle in all directions, letting need and nurture break all the levees of pride.
And on the other days? Our people and our cats will still be here for us.
We’re weak every day of the week. But when we hold onto each other, the fellowship of the weak becomes the nation of the nurtured.
Now who’s going to get down on the floor to color with me?
*Triumphant postscript: Marley is now only miffed at felinity in memory. You got it, kittens: her arrow hit its mark in forever’s heart, and she’s now the unrivaled queen in a home of her own. Still needy? You betcha. Merrily meeting needs, too? As only she can do. Bon voyage, little lily.