Where did you come by it?
You know you have it.
It’s the fire in your belly. It’s the lilac in your garden. It’s the Zebra Cake in your pantry.
It’s — although you would never personally use this expression for it — your “overabundance of empathy.”
It’s your greatest strength, your greatest trial, and your greatest resemblance to Josie.
I came upon this phrase — “an overabundance of empathy” — recently, and I felt a surge of, well, empathy for whoever wrote it.
Anyone who would cast a sly eye at empathy is, no doubt, a measured, reasonable, balanced person.
Anyone who worries about reckless empathy is careful and contained, with a spotless bathroom and a spotless record and a sleeve of rice cakes instead of Zebra Cakes in their (spotless) pantry.
Anyone who believes in an “overabundance” of empathy has been underexposed to cats.
Perhaps there was a time before Josie exuded empathy. Kittenhood is the season for self-centeredness, when the world twirls around your tiny, tyrannical frame.
With no scars and no fallen dreams, baby Josie, like each of us, considered only her own kingdom. Curled in on herself like gift ribbon, she moved too fast to fritter away hours with plodding people who plop tears on every leaf.
Who has time for that? Certainly not a kitten. Leaves are to be leapt upon. Life is to be lived with eyes squarely on oneself, especially when oneself is so glorious as Josie.
(Let us all here pause to consider the magnificence of Josie as a kitten. Oh my word. Oh my stars. Oh my goodness.)
But one cannot stay a child forever, not in a world where cakes go stale and bodies go berserk and dreams go boom.
The kingdom of kittenhood gave way to the gristle and thistles of time, and Josie crashed face-first into the wall that hits us all. It’s awful; it’s asphalt; it asks questions; it is no guarantee of maturity.
In Josie’s case, the wall was glopped with graffiti reading Skin Disease and Inappropriate Elimination and Diarrhea For Days. (We suspect the work of Banksy.)
A measured, reasonable, balanced cat would whitewash that mess quickly, picking up whatever dignity remained and locking it behind stainless steel.
But Josie is not a measured, reasonable, balanced cat.
Josie is not afraid of grass stains and tear-stains and the pains that paint us many colors.
Josie stared at the wall long enough to recognize that it was a mosaic, a million broken pieces joining forces for a new story…if Josie had the courage to tell it.
And that was about the time Josie came to Tabby’s Place.
As usual, we were the ones to get healed.
Josie had crawled from the wreckage of kittenhood into a new cat, a mature cat, all eminence and empathy. Like every creature courageous enough to be unbalanced by love, Josie was eternally off her axis now.
She was just tilted enough to see straight into starving eyes, even starving eyes that look self-assured. Especially those.
And so Josie cared for us.
Josie commanded her powers to plant flowers where we saw only concrete. Josie conquered our wounds with cuddles, our sighs with sweetness, our long hours with her longing for our love.
It is a fearsome thing to be longed-for, to be the object of another’s affection, to bask in the bravery of a creature strong enough to love you and to make it known.
It’s the kind of thing that just might make you over-abundantly empathetic. Next thing you know, you’re loving until it hurts, and then further, past the hurt to the pasture of peace that passes all understanding.
At this point, you should issue a warning to all in your path, for they are in grave danger of being healed and changed. If they’re not careful, an overabundance of empathy will break the levees of loneliness.
Lilacs will bloom, brave and unruly.
Love causes collateral chaos that way.
Love launches us back and forward in time. Look closely at Josie, and you will see the baby that was, the adult that is, and the kitten still coming into focus.
Tilted by trauma, exalted by empathy, our little Zebra Cake is coming into a second kittenhood.
One where she is no longer childish, but childlike.
One where she is no longer self-ball, but shepherd.
One where she’s an awful lot like wonderful you, at your best.
Once overabundance has had its way with us, we can never cram it back into the pantry.
Lucky us. Lucky, blessed, rich us. We are tycoons in love’s typhoon.
So let the lean and logical keep their rice cakes and their straight lines.
Better yet, let them enter our loopy land of love. Let us bless their “balance” with eyes that see and hearts that hang around, even when dreams go boom.
We will cry. We will crash. We will cling to each other, and to Josie. We will eat too much cake and bite off more than we can chew and somehow, somehow, somehow get back to the garden of childhood.