While we’re here, we can stand in this unique intersection without looking left and right.
While we’re here, we can dump all the crayons on the floor and meet in the playroom beyond black-and-white.
While we’re here, we can be here. But it is a choice.
Kittens, it’s been a wringing hoedown of a two-plus years. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself spinning off into star trails of my own imagining, drawing make-believe boxes to make sense of my virulent world, putting myself in daily danger of forgetting my own vim and verve and very-muchness.
The past and the future, remembrances and reachings, seem safe. No, that’s not quite right; they seem distracting, diverting, sham-dances allowing us to delegate the moment away. Scrolling our candy bar-sized electronic overlords, pulling threads of the past, or worry-wrapping the future is somehow easier than sitting in the dust of the uncertain present.
Will variants vanquish our plans (again)?
Will a new normal, or an old normal, or a chandelier-swinging abnormal, be overwhelming or underwhelming?
Will we lose treasures or acquire troubles or find all of our cookies crumbled at the bottom of the jar?
Or will we be wildly present, wonderful in our weakness, succored by a strength that was never ours to worry about?
Which is to say: will we be very much like Ralph and S’mores? Yes: I am once again asking for your attention to the boys who keep bending our world homeward.
The age of seventh-grade boys and the ambassadors of seventh heaven itself, Ralph and S’mores are arguably the best thing that ever happened to New Jersey. (Humble beasts, the brothers would hasten to remind us of Queen Latifah and Jon Stewart and Bruce Springsteen, but we maintain our claim.)
Aptly named beyond measure, S’mores is the single most marshmallular individual who ever oozed the earth. He melts into your arms. He melts into slumber. Most of all, he melts into the lookalike side of his Comfort Person, one Ralph Rosenberg.
Equally elderly, eminently affectionate, Ralph is a cat of quiet questions and courageous clinging. But where you and I wring our monkey fingers around what-ifs, Ralph’s paws handle those matters that confound the greatest (human) minds of our generation.
Is it possible to love so quickly you forget your own name and remember your own purpose?
Is it possible to fit one dozen White Castle sliders into one’s mouth at once?
Is it possible this life is really ours to live?
Is it possible to be here, to be, to just truly be?
If the black-and-white cat permanently affixed to the other black-and-white cat could be reduced to a single verb, it would be,”be.”
Ralph’s past, like that of his oozing brother — the moondance to his sundance, the fluffernutter to his Jif — is thwacked with tragedy. His past is so pocked with sorrows — inexplicable return from his “forever home,” gastrointestinal grievances to make even seventh-grade boys blush — that one could make a permanent home in its craters.
But Ralph does not live there.
Ralph does not even visit there.
Ralph is fully here.
And Ralph wants nothing more than for you to be here.
When Ralph and S’mores came back to Tabby’s Place, our collective hearts were taken forcibly from our own chests. Staff and volunteers consulted each other in hushed tones: “is it just me, or do you love them so much it kind of scares you?” “Are you kind of obsessed with Ralph and S’mores?” “Do you think about Ralph and S’mores at night and cross-stitch their names onto pillows and doodle R + S + AH = TRU LUV 4-EVR in your notebook?”
Every day since their return, Ralph and S’mores have offered their best crayons (the fancy, limited edition, original 64-color pack — the one that most people keep pristine in its original packaging), their best intentions, and a question that could cut the chaos out of our hours, if we’ll let it.
Specifically, our hour: this hour.
Ralph’s eyes pour forth rivers, and as the water hits each stone, the music is the same: “I’m here! I’m here. But you, you’re long ago and far away. You’re partially present, your crumbs strewn across your timeline. Will you come back from afar and just be with me? Will you give me more than crumbs?”
Most of us, planful beasts that we are, are far too proud to ask such a question. But in his weakness, Ralph is the strongest among us, and in his clinging, he teaches us the meaning of courage.
Should you somehow resist his rivers, Ralph has one last strategy for wrestling you to the moment. Paw by deliberate paw, using all of his elderly energy, he will climb you, trusting that you are a mighty oak.
And in this moment — just this one — you can be precisely that.
Weak and wobbling though you may be, you can kiss the present, be the presence, get colored and centered by a cat who wants nothing more than for you to be with him.
Sweet ones, I don’t know which particular Somewhere Else is vying to be your residence today. I don’t know which yesterdays and tomorrows are yammering in your ears and yanking you away from the holy work of holding this space, this improbable hour, this creature right in front of you, his eyes trembling with trust.
I do know that not one of us — not Ralph or S’mores or you or me or the seventh grade boys currently masterminding the greatest food fight in the history of New Jersey — knows a whit about tomorrow. We may not have the opportunity to play with the crayons we’re saving for a special occasion. We may not be able to find White Castle sliders in the supermarket. Every last one of us has a limited number of hugs left in our lifetime.
But we have the unlimited loveliness of this hour, with all its whys and what-the-hecks.
And we have Ralph, and S’mores, and one another.
We’ll keep rowing to the shore. We’ll keep planning and pondering (our wrinkly brains can’t stop). We’ll forgive each other’s fractured attention. Right here, at precisely this ripple of the river, we’ll choose to stop. And after a million million moments, we’ll be rubbed smooth and shimmery like river rocks, a chorus whose babbling has turned to grace.
I’m grateful to be in this moment with you. Now I’m going to go pick Ralph up again.