There are people who scare you: dictators, axe murderers, Ronald McDonald.
There are people who evoke your sympathy: starving people, lonely people, people enslaved by warlords or warlocks.
Then there are the people who fall into both categories simultaneously.
I’m talking about the people who are incapable of appreciating marshmallows: scary and sad.
I’m talking about the people who are not amused by Jimmy Fallon singing about tight pants: scary and sad.
And I’m talking about the people who just…can’t…love…cats.
Scary. Sad. Seriously.
We don’t encounter these people too frequently at Tabby’s Place, but when we do, it’s a cataclysm of sympathy and shock. They tumble through our doors like dry grass, meeting the gaze of no creature.
They are always on a mission.
“My wife had some litter to donate. Our <expletive> cat won’t use it. <Expletive> cat.”
Or, “These towels are from my uncle. He likes cats” (said with a withering look at Mimi, sharp eyes asking, is this scurvy beast going to soil my footwear?).
Most commonly, it’s a variation on a theme. You could actually play Mad Libs with the sad standard speech that brings the sad standard ailurophobe to our lobby:
“My (auntie/plumber/shoeshine boy/publicist) has (1/2/20/797) cats but can’t keep ’em anymore because she/he is (reading Ulysses/running for President/being held hostage by warlords/keeping up with Kardashians). I (hate/don’t want/have to get rid of/don’t know what to do with) them. (Expletive/Expletive/Expletive/Expletive) cats.”
You get the idea.
We do our best to help these people. We do our best to cast no mental stones. I confess my first instinct is not so much to judge these people* as to feel heartbroken for them. They are angry. They won’t make eye contact with a cat.
They are missing so much.
It’s in the icy wake of such visits that I remember: I don’t love cats because I am A Really Awesome Person. I don’t love cats because my soul is a pulsing bliss-hoard of holiness and grace. I don’t love cats because I’m any better than anyone else.
I love cats because the ability to love is a gift, inexplicable and lavish. If it’s a gift, I didn’t earn it. And if it’s a gift, all I can do is receive it…and nudge it on ahead into other shaky hands, one gentle conversation at a time.
Don’t get me wrong. It would be easy, and momentarily satisfying, to give people what-for. (Whatever what-for is, anyway. If ever I receive a parcel with the return address specifying “What-For,” I will return to sender.) There’s a certain self-righteous binge that tempts us every time someone brash and mean spews their stuff. But to tell them off would only be to boost the beast. Angry, hungry people don’t start to love because someone gave them what-for.
Love gave me a torch, and I can either add to the arson of anger or light little candles — even if they’re held in balled-up angry fists.
It isn’t only cats to whom we tend here at Tabby’s Place.
There’s one more wrinkle in this rabble: I’m not entirely convinced these people, these cat-negative people, truly exist. Inevitably, towards the end of such a tortured conversation, something like a smile will tug at the side of their mouths and they’ll let something slip. It’s not much, just a mumble of, “I knew one cat, one time…he was good…almost kinda like a dog.”
As you know and I know, that one fine cat was by no means like a dog. He was like a cat. He was like a gift. He was like a candle that won’t go out.
Let’s not let it go out. Not on our watch.
*No, no, I am far too noble for that. I reserve my judgment for people who wear jorts. God help me. No, seriously. God, please help me not to judge anyone. We need us all.
Photo credits: All Mark’s mad skills except top thumbnail by AT.