No that, no this

No that, no this

We think we live in a cause-and-effect universe.

Cassie knows we live in a celestial kitchen.

Any kitchen worth its name is at least a little chaotic.

You may find marinara-stained index cards. You may find renegade Cheerios rolling somewhere cheerful. You may find cats patrolling for unsupervised dairy. You may find stalks of asparagus in tumblers like strange Druid straws.

You may find all the party guests who are supposed to be in the living room.

You will find ingredients.

You will not find all the ingredients.

The ingredients of a good Tabby’s Place story seem as straightforward as a loaf of wheat bread. Take a half-gallon of hopeless and hurl it into a mixing bowl with mercy. Salt the bitterness out of the Big Sad, and bake in balmy kisses for 2-4 weeks. All that was crusty shall become soft. All that was crushed shall become streusel.

Cause, effect.

But all the ingredients have not been listed.

Cassie’s recipe card was clear enough. She’d been owned, loved, baked into a turgid torbie focaccia of generous size. Good ingredients lead to a good outcome.

But then Cassie picked up some strange pickles at the supermarket, and swapped them in for the expected olives. For reasons she could certainly justify, but chooses not to, she bit her owner sharply one day. And while you or I would have poured in several cups of forgiveness at this juncture, that’s not the way the dough rolled. “Bad” behavior led to a hopeless situation.

If you read the assorted neon index cards in the Tabby’s Place kitchen, you’ll find “hopeless situation” scratched out of each one, in Sharpie, sometimes with expletives and inappropriate sketches next to them. In place of that inglorious ingredient, someone always writes in “cinnamon” or “maple syrup” or “BEEVES BOTH CORNED AND ROAST” (we have learned to identify Baby‘s handwriting).

No sooner had the love-stove gone cold, than Cassie’s pot belly was warm again. She was at Tabby’s Place, so everything would be delectable from now on. Good, ridiculous people lead to a perfect life for a cat. Overnight, Cassie went from cast-off to cherished, from crumbled half-Cheez-It at the bottom of the box to big cheese. We were smitten; love was scrumptious; life glistened with the oil of mercy.

If only Cassie hadn’t made that side-trip to the patella patisserie.

Cassie should have been strutting through Suite C like she’d just won the New Jersey State Bake-Off. Instead, she was staggering, stumbly and crumbly. She would settle into lap-feasts, only to suddenly go hungry and go crazy and bite the hands that fed her kindness. We’d done everything right, but the souffle fell flat.

Chefs Dr. C, Denise, Jess, and Drew identified the unwelcome ingredient: Cassie had a luxating patella, a painful condition that, in this case, called for surgery.

So it was off to the Culinary Institute of Dr. Fantastic.

And now, everything could be yum again. Surgery, healing. Cause, effect.

Not so fast.

The only thing worse than one kitchen disaster is the same kitchen disaster twice in a row. (“My lobster Florentine made everyone violently ill, so…I’m going to make it again tomorrow.” Actually, Baby would take this risk merrily.)

Cassie was just about to bite down on the cheeseburger of calm (which is also the name of Baby’s Jimmy Buffett tribute band) when — OUCH! She burned her paw on the stove.

Which is to say, she luxated that picklish patella again.

It didn’t add up.

Bad had led to good, which had led to better, which had led to bad, which had led to delicious, which had led to the surgical equivalent of a cold, molded mustard sandwich.

Which was about to lead to the love equivalent of sweet potato pie. (“WRITE BEEVES! BEEEEEEVES!” – Baby)

Had Cassie not needed a second surgery (and, journalistic integrity bids me add, had she not complained as violently as if we’d insisted she eat asparagus, biting and brawling and throwing all the fancy oyster plates to the floor to watch them smash), she would not have entered the foster haven of Jae.

Had Cassie not been fostered with superhuman tenderness, she would not have come to realize — perhaps to remember, from a bowl of pudding long, long ago — that the sweet always follows the bitter.

Had the awful ingredients not swirled among the savory, Cassie would not be Cassie, much less ours. Patches would be missing; colors would be faded; the grand mystery would be as flat as a saltine, when all along Cassie knew she was thousand-layer cake.

If the flowers aren’t crushed, there’s no perfume.

If the wheat doesn’t fall to the ground, there’s no focaccia.

And if all the causes come together as we meticulously cook them, we’ll miss out on the greatest effects of our lives.

No hopeless situations, no Tabby’s Place.

No tears, no hugs.

No brokenness, no healing.

I don’t presume to know how any of this works. (“I do! We are saved by the beeves!” Thank you, Baby.)

I will readily admit that I would prefer a kitchen in which we all live at the moment the timer “dings!” and our lives swarm with the sweet scent of cookies.

I do not want the eggy, messy, floury road, much less the moments of swapping the sugar for salt, or finding that baking soda is not, in fact, an optional ingredient.

But I do want what Cassie has, which is the feast.

I do want to gather around the kitchen island with all the cats and all of you, and remember why it’s better than the living room.

We don’t know all that goes into our recipes. But if we put in our whole hearts as nobly as Chef Cassie, things will turn out right.

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