I want to tell you about two young men.
I want to tell you about a world at war.
I want to tell you about peace that passes understanding.
I want to tell you about the pieces of peace that we’re stitching together, together.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, I had the inexplicable need to make handcrafts. Tiny felted hearts. Neon potholders. Crocheted blankets exactly the size of one sleeping cat. Perhaps “uncontrollable urge” is more like it.
Unlike my mother and grandmother, I am not what you would call “good” or even “passable” at this sort of thing.
Maybe “good” and “passable” aren’t the point.
In the face of fear, our hands sometimes know what our minds forget and our hearts are too harrowed to handle. We feel powerless and pale, but even trembling fingers can take a corner of the world in hand. Stitching or wordsmithing, baking or ballet: we know in our bodies that beauty may save the world. The “product” isn’t the purpose. Having purpose is the purpose.
No one knows this better than earth’s most enthusiastic amateurs: kittens.
In a time when bears go to war, kittens come to make peace. Kittens come to make art. Kittens come to Tabby’s Place, as kittens always do, March after March, an endless lullaby of “kitten seasons,” sure as the crocuses that crash through the frost.
This year’s early arrivals included one Houston, a haggard hamster who immediately inspired a thousand “Houston, we have a problem” jokes. His cerebellum conducted cockeyed ceremonials, waterlogged by hydrocephalus. His shaggy Siameezish body was a thatched roof of mats, messier than even my embroidery. His upper respiratory infection was upwards of ten stories tall, rocking the whole city of Houston with honks and snorts and sneezes and shnorkles.
He was not entirely artful.
He was entirely awesome.
(He is not, exactly, a kitten. As the story goes, he is five years old. Inconceivable, I know. But, kittenhood is a state of mind, and size, and wiggliness. Houston is a perma-kitten if ever there was one.)
With his needlework all gnarled and his watercolors all whirled, Houston was happier than Michelangelo surveying the completed Sistine Chapel. His fumbling, bumbling little body had borne him to Tabby’s Place, where he would have infinite opportunities to practice the handiwork of love.
Houston loves love. Houston loves baths. Houston loves being the feline equivalent of a woolly bear. Houston loves uprighting himself every time he falls. Houston loves teaching us to live uprightly. Houston loves Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind.” Houston loves high-steppin’ with exactly one of his back legs. Houston loves dreaming so vibrantly, we’ve mistaken his slumbering kung-fu for a seizure.
Houston has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. Houston is doing it all with all his heart. Houston’s hairy hands are mending his corner of the blanket that covers the cosmos.
Across the Tabbiverse, in the celestial foster home of a staff member who shall remain unnamed to protect the spectacular (except to say that it’s Bree and she’s my hero), another nano-gentleman has been perfecting his art of imperfection.
Alfie was born with a smile like a streak of quartz meandering down a mountain. Technically, it’s a cleft palate, a “flaw,” a dropped stitch, a crack in the vase. But Alfie knows otherwise. Free from the illusion that hog-ties the rest of us — “perfection is your business” — he can finger-paint the walls of the world. Unworried about mastering much of anything, he can muster the mirth that just might save striving ones like you and me.
Alfie gets sneezy. He gets nebulized. He gets food in funny places. He gets lonely. (That’s how he got a foster sister named Pamela, tortoiseshell of paraplegic panache, on whom more in a future post.) He gets honest. He gets excited about reminding us to get excited that we get to live in a world that contains cantaloupe and petunias and ankle socks festooned with sloths.
He gets us, and he gets us laughing, and he gets us outside of our sorry solemn selves. He gets us crafting and caring and plunging our fingers into the dough of life again. Holding Alfie, we find ourselves holding on to our creativity and our courage and one another for dear life.
And life — this imperfect, wind-whipped, war-walloped, weeping willow of a life — is still dear.
Houston and Alfie can’t win a cat calendar contest, or a dance-off, or the prospect of a home with the overwhelming majority of adopters. Houston can’t even keep Bellamy from saber-rattling around his Lobby playpen.
I can’t stitch two pieces of felt together in a straight line.
You and I can’t vault ourselves into Kyiv or Mariupol or the minds of the mean-spirited to patch peace into place.
We can’t love each other perfectly. Sometimes it feels like we can’t even make progress. Every day, we have to start all over, learn anew what mercy means. Our hands are small, and they shake more wildly than Houston’s head.
But we’ve been given these hands and this nervous energy and this drive to “do” for a reason.
Some days, I’m so tired, I wish the blank pages and the empty bowls would fill themselves. But then I look up at Houston and Alfie and the fierce, follied earth-saints in front of me, and I realize that all this “taking care of business” is taking care of me.
We’re not in the perfection business. But our business is big for our own little worlds, the only worlds we’ve been asked to heal.
We can bathe cats and make tiny beautiful things, knead and nourish and nurture each other in ways that deserve something greater than “perfect.” We can write and pray and wash dishes and make casseroles. We can stitch wobbly granny-squares until we run into each other mid-blanket and smile at the seams.
We will let each other down along the way. We will let the cats down by our sheer inability to procure 55-gallon drums of liquefied provolone. But the let-down is fine — right, even — so long as we never pull each other down. We can choose, heart and hand, to be the right kinds of anchors.
We can let two-pound kittens be our anchors.
We can feel our frizzled flaws and run our paint-stained fingers down the fault lines of the world, whispering our own soothing “shhhhhh,” one stitch at a time.
And we can remember what whiskered amateurs never forget: none of us are very good at any of this (life, art, geopolitics), but that’s not what matters.
Use your hands. Use your heart. Knead the dough. Need each other. And perhaps a little kitten or two will lead us all.
Let’s make peace.