We think we need a guarantee.
What we get is a friend and a new morning.
And then we get to do it all over again.
We’ve spent many mornings and midnights thinking about feline leukemia virus (FeLV) at Tabby’s Place this last couple of years.
Why are the cats afflicted with this particular condition so universally stricken with “no”? Whether they arrive at a vet office or a shelter, the chorus is consistent:
“No, we can’t take you.”
“No, we can’t take a chance on you.”
“No, we can’t do anything other than mercifully euthanize you, on the spot, in the hot, teary moment of your diagnosis.”
There are, of course, an encyclopedia of eminently reasonable reasons for the “no”s. The course of FeLV never does run smooth. The disease is angrily infectious among cats, passed more easily than a plate of snickerdoodles. Diagnosis is a dotty business, with cats testing variably positive, negative, or “discordant” (essentially the viral equivalent of an Arnold Palmer). Some positives “go negative.” Some discordants dance fast enough to shake off the virus, or at least its smudgy, smirking signs.
Some will succumb within months of diagnosis. Some will thrive rebelliously for years.
None will offer up a road map, a crystal ball, or a schedule of joys and sorrows.
Housing them takes care, and creativity, and no small measure of the crazy-flavored love that creates 90-square-foot offices explicitly, exuberantly, for the lepers of the feline family.
Unlatching our hearts to them means willingly hurling ourselves into a thicket of love, shields down, briars everywhere, the monster named Imminent Goodbye heavy-breathing down our necks. (He is no less than 9′ tall, does not brush his teeth, and takes no vacations by the seaside.)
Cats of most colors and conditions and quirks will, for lack of a better word, “respond” to our works of mercy.
We can care for kidney disease and chart its course, even through tears; we can corral diabetes into something like “control;” we can diaper and re-diaper and re-diaper our partying paraplegics, all the while laughing and grossing ourselves out and proving to the world that the broken are the blessed, and love is stronger than strangeness.
With the overwhelming majority of cats, we have, if not a guarantee, at least some lovely odds that we know what to do and what to expect and how to make sense of the weird wobbling world we share.
The FeLV+ cats throw ten thousand fireworks into all that.
Despite our best efforts — the kind that will chorus through the halls of Quinn’s Corner — we can’t guarantee anything beyond love.
Fortunately for the cats and for us, there is nothing beyond love.
Perhaps FeLV+ cats can’t find many “yes”es because they can’t help but remind us of our own unguaranteed lives. They are unapologetically fragile, infuriatingly mysterious, balloons without strings in a very large sky.
We do not want to be balloons. We fancy ourselves armored tanks, or at least armadillos. We think we have all our soldiers neatly aligned, hours marching obediently at our behest. If we insert all the right coins in all the right slots, we’ll get all the sweets and the securities that keep us sane. At least, we think we need them to keep us sane.
But daily bread is far simpler than we think.
No matter how prudent and planful we are, neither you nor I know what tomorrow knows. Between now and the time you reach the end of this blog post, the world could erupt in war or song; you could receive the best or worst news of your life; the phone could ring or the music could go silent or your heart could be hurled like a meteorite into some new world you can’t yet imagine.
Among the FeLV+ cats, we can’t pretend it’s otherwise.
Which means we’re married to the moment, and as free as we can ever be.
When you know that you don’t know what to expect, you know each new morning is as much of a miracle as the very first one that ever dawned.* Like a crisp coupon, the day is slipped into your hand, fresh and personal, yours to redeem or reject.
You are free to reject the mysteries and the mewing questions, free to say “no” to the unknowns that you know will break your heart, sooner or later. If you need to know precisely how soon or how late you’ll be laid low by sorrow, then loving FeLV+ cats will not be for you.
But you’re also free to wrestle with an angel all night, so long as you accept that, come daybreak, you may walk with a limp.
In that case, you’re invited to join the limping, loving, perhaps half-lunatic Tabby’s Place team as we fling wide the doors.
Quinn’s Corner is, more than anything, one defiant “yes!” shouting down a world of cautious “no”s.
“Yes” to the cats whose condition is inscrutable.
“Yes” to the lifespans that deserve cherishment for every one of their unpredictable hours.
“Yes” to the unconditional love that is stranger than safety, stronger than death, and sturdier than our own crystalline hearts.
In the words of Dorothy Day, “What we would like to do is change the world … (and) we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”
And even to love each misted morning as a friend, arms laden with a picnic basket of grace.
Grace, not guarantees.
Dig to the bottom of the basket, and you won’t find a single wax-paper-wrapped certainty. The most robust new resident of Quinn’s Corner may fade tomorrow. The cat we expected to dance jigs with every St. Patrick’s Day from here to 2027 may be gone before the first crocus of 2022.
But, with or without the cats who will break and mend and change our hearts, there were never any guarantees to begin with.
The FeLV+ cats free us to see ourselves, and each other, in the mercy of the moment, which is all we ever have.
And maybe, by doing this wild Quinn’s Corner thing that we’re doing, we’ll recruit some voices to the Yes-a-luia Chorus. We don’t want to be the only show in town for FeLV+ cats, or waifs and wanderers of any stripe. We want to champion them so loudly, so lushly, so irresistibly, that the world may know they’re worth the tears and mystery.
After all, we’re all made of tears and mystery.
Again, I turn to Dorothy: “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”
Morning by morning.
Friend by friend.
There are no guarantees, but there’s grace on the griddle and a great big sun in the sky.
Pack your backpack for the thicket of love, kittens.
*Let those who have ears to hear understand that there are very few mornings that cannot be improved by listening to Mary J. Blige’s “Work That.” I would also heartily endorse Dorothy Day’s sentiment, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the Psalms.” And I would like to be a great deal more like both of those women, morning by morning. But, as usual, I digress.
Pictured top to bottom: Quinn’s Corner namesake, soul, and inspiration Quinn x5; FeLV+ Tabby’s Place alums Gose, India, Lager, Ale & Kolsch, Doolin & Donegal