On behalf of every cat who hath ever trod the earth, I beseech you: slow down.
On behalf of Elijah, the cat who hath most gelatinously trod the earth, I beseech you in all caps: SLOW. DOWN.
Slow down, with verve, panache, and pizzazz.
Among the very few good things cats lack are opposable thumbs, those can-opening handy-dandies that are our insurance against a total feline insurrection. (“We can’t overthrow them entirely if we intend to keep getting at the fancier feasts.”)
But if cats had deft digits like ours, you can be assured they would wield them very, very differently.
They would not DIY. (Why DIY when you can DIN — Do It Not?)
They would not grip the handles of a Peloton, spinning into nowhere fast.
They would most certainly not make needlepoints, least of all needlepoints reading “EVERYDAY I’M HUSTLIN’.”
The day I beheld this creation — for it exists, and can be procured from Etsy for twenty-one of the dollars for which you have presumably hustled — something broke inside my brain. It was a good break, the kind that splits the geode, the kind that frees the egg, the kind that makes you kinder, if you can handle the initial “ouch.”
There, in pastel threads festooned with daisies, was the stark difference between the species we serve and the species we are.
We — you and me and the needlepointer and all the rest of us — hallow our hustling. We preen over our productivity. We think ourselves precious, if, and only if, we paddle hard and fast and breathless. It’s a gasping, grueling logic.
And all the while, cats simply breathe.
This includes Elijah, although sometimes we have to walk up very close to ensure that he is, in fact, still breathing. Even among a species known for its impressive impressions of “deep coma,” Elijah is especially adept at playing…well, not quite dead, but let’s say profoundly peaceful.
Elijah is a living leisure suit, a straw hat and seersucker jacket that summers through the snow.
Elijah has never listened to Rihanna’s “Work.”
Elijah believes idle paws are the angels’ amphitheater, where they sing their best songs for their favorite cats.
Elijah does not keep a five-year journal. Elijah does not keep five minutes’ records of rights and wrongs. Elijah can scarcely keep his eyes open.
Elijah keeps company with saints and sages.
Elijah is not without achievements, of course. Not one week ago, Elijah convinced me, in a moment of hyperglycemic glum, to sit down for six entire minutes, my entire self sinking into the floor. I paused. I sat down. I. SAT. DOWN.
My default frequency is Embroidery Needle In The Hand Of A Caffeinated Toddler, so this was no small achievement.
I did not think about the money I raised in 2022, and whether I could raise the money and the vibration and the collective state of human and feline happiness in 2023. (Don’t tilt your head at me like that. You know your own aspirations fist-bump the absurd, too.)
I did not think about how much I wanted to write before nightfall, and how unworthy I feel when the words won’t unfurl, and whether I will ever feel worthy enough to stop worrying for six entire minutes.
I did not think about what I had to show for my week or my life or my soul.
I did not feel guilty for not being productive.
And this, this, this, was Elijah’s transcendent achievement.
Elijah knew. (Cats know.) Elijah laboriously turned the crank on the garage-door-opener behind his lashes, and I realized, for the first time, that his eyes are not gold, not green, but pale hazel.
I felt, as if for the first time, like my own eyes were open. Maybe even that third eye, the electrified one, the sight bright enough to sigh and rest and rejoice in the gelatinous hours as much as the go-getting ones.
And then six minutes turned into seven, and my third eye slammed shut, and once again I saw the imaginary Eye of Sauron evaluating my work and my life and my hustle.
Every day I’m hustlin’. But maybe it doesn’t need to be this way. And maybe Elijah can teach me — and you, and all the needle-y nervous wrecks among us — before someone or something else does.
You know the teaching of which I speak. At some sharp moment, it spears us all. There’s no quicker way to slow a breathless butterfly than the slow-down stick of pain.
An unexpected illness; a split-you-down-the-center grief; an accident; an incident; an insistence that you SLOW. DOWN. They come, and we can’t say no, and we can’t hustle.
And we are still as valuable as Volkswagen-sized cats.
How much sweeter when we remember this before the VW hits.
How much sweeter when we breathe.
How bitter to realize that breathing is a revolutionary act, revolutionary enough that there’s an organization called the Nap Ministry, devoted entirely to “the liberating power of naps” and “rest as a radical tool for community healing.”
How beautiful to awaken at Tabby’s Place, surrounded by restvolutionaries, ready to heal and hold space for hustlers like you and me.
We don’t begrudge Elijah and his fellow rebels their rest, not even if they exceed their minimum 18 hours a day.
We don’t begrudge our beloveds of any species a break from the battle, a gap in the grind, a way station from the work that will never be the measure of anyone’s worth.
So this February, the breathless, breakneck assembly line can keep its “BE MINEs” and “WORK ITs.” Stuff ’em in a stale, hollow chocolate heart. This February, let’s be the nougat, the gooey, grace-laced center that will center us all in kindness.
(Let’s also start a band called Be The Nougat. Elijah would be the lead singer, but he lacks both the thumbs to hold the mic and the energy to leap about like a meowing Mick Jagger. So that’s gonna have to be you, gentle reader.)
Let’s rest. And rise. And rejoice in our languid, lasting lovableness.
Whatever we do or don’t produce or earn or burn or churn.
Whatever cans we can or can’t open.
We can do this. We can stop flapping. And we can start finding hazel eyes and hazelnuts, crocuses and choruses, whisker kisses and warm whispers, if only we slow it down.