“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” – Thomas Merton
“You have a lot to learn, Tomcat.” – Every Cat Who Ever Lived
Cats do and don’t have much in common with Trappist monks.
Do: offer the very breath of their lives as a continuous prayer.
Don’t: combat selfishness.
Do: look stellar in black-and-white.
Don’t: accept that their powers are limited.
Especially not their powers to heal.
The cats who come to Tabby’s Place are, at first blush, often in need of healing. We take the misfits, after all, the bruised oranges and three-legged tables; the holey Goodwill sweaters and the deep-discount dented refrigerators. They need insulin and diapering, special diets and special accommodations, emergency care and the urgency of our attention, patience like molasses and persistence like Mercy Itself.
They need us to heal them.
They let us believe this.
Angelo needed his way into Tabby’s Place sometime around the Nixon administration. Time had run out at a thundering windmill of a city shelter. When you are a single white bird flapping between the blades, it’s very hard to get yourself free. When you are a batty white bird with bad bathroom habits and a history of biting, the sky itself looks sealed shut.
But Tabby’s Place is nothing if not open sky, and so the wry white angel landed in our laps, and grew large on the feast of our love, and grew old as the years yammered promises that were almost all kept (yes: you will be loved no matter what; no: you cannot have ALL the sausages; yes: Tabby’s Place tastes like heaven; no: your dinner does not taste sufficiently like bacon).
Especially now, in his extreme old age, Angelo needs us.
Pepita needed her way into Tabby’s Place with an admission essay called My Batty Bladder. A pilgrim stray with a pie-sweet heart, she was tenderness incarnate, but her particular incarnation was stuck at the station. She peed as recklessly as she loved, incontinence leading to acres of impossibles in the search for safety.
But Tabby’s Place is nothing if not perpetual feast, and so the seed grew into a pumpkin, which turned into a princess carriage, until the fairy tale called You Cannot Lose Your Lovedness sang her to sleep every day and night for the next several years.
Especially now, in the autumn of her days, Pepita needs us.
Now, if you are a Trappist monk or a mongoose or a meandering mongrel human (and there is no other variety), neediness does not always bring forth your ultimate niftiness. (Ultimate Niftiness is, however, an excellent name for an all-accordion band of Trappist monks and trap-neuter-return experts.)
Neediness can make you greedy.
Neediness can make you feary and teary.
Neediness can make you think the whole world is a threadbare Goodwill sweater, too small for the whole lot of us mongrels, so you’d better grab the few sorry strings dangling in front of your eyes, and avert your eyes from whoever else is shivering.
Neediness can make you forget that people are walking around shining like the sun.
Neediness can make you forget that you are walking around shining like the sun.
Which is why we need healers and truth-tellers and cats with names like Angelo and Pepita.
The angel and the pumpkin-seed would never tell you that they are selfless beings, of course. (Angelo would laugh so hard, you could hear him from Sicily, which is also where he swears he’s from, which should earn him at least the occasional cannoli, you know?)
Angelo may be on everyone’s side, but he never forgets to be on his own; Pepita may be meek enough to inherit the earth, but she has the dignity to stand her ground.
They know that they deserve a lot.
They know — which we trappy, scrappy little fearballs forget — that they have a lot.
And then they choose to give it all away. Whilst wearing jaunty bandannas.
Angelo and Pepita are charter members of our Aged to Purrfection crew, a team of cats who crisscross the county visiting nursing homes and other care facilities. Much as we would love to send every one of our residents on these road trips, the vast majority are just too mouthy or anxious or otherwise wrong for the job. (That’s OK. Every cat at Tabby’s Place finds a sacred vocation, whether it be Mage or Cleric or Purveyor of Immortal Chaos.)
To be an “ATP” cat, you must be boundlessly gentle. You must be exquisitely unsnappish. Your must be made of candles that light up instantly at the sight of persons elderly and frail, fearful and fur-hungry.
You must look at senior citizens and see the sun.
And you must tell them.
To witness Angelo and Pepita at work is to see a great, gasping grace-hour of giving. Nestled among elders, the angel and the pumpkin-seed surrender themselves entirely to the needs of their neighbors.
They give their love without measure. They say “no” to absolutely no one who needs the “yes” of a hug.
Held and kissed, kissed and held, strolled about and swaddled, they spend themselves, emptying their accounts to absolute zero.
But they incur no overdraft fees.
Somehow, the empty vessel is the one that overflows.
Somehow, the old, needy, broken cats who give it all get to keep even more, multiplied a hundredfold.
The mustard seed, buried in the soil of someone else’s sad heart, grows into a sequoia. The grain of sand, sunk in the ocean of lonely arms, rises to be a magic mountain.
The timeworn treasure-humans in Aged to Purrfection (and there are no other kind) walk or wheel away knowing that they are, in fact, shining like the sun.
The tattered healers who hurled everything they own into others’ laps walk away owning the entire universe.
And therein lies the power that cats know, but monks and muffinheads like us forget: when dusk falls, all we get to keep is what we give away.
The sweaters and sweetness we hoard will dissolve into dust.
The love we lavish recklessly will heal the wreckage of our days.
And this is why cats win absolutely everything, all the time. (Even Battleship, which is Pepita’s personal favorite, but only if you make the “kabooOOooom” noises.)
It’s a powerful thing, this business of busting open our piggy banks and pouring the pennies — all the pennies — into love’s fountain.
It’s an ATP cat thing.
And in our shiniest moments, it’s an “us” thing.
Let’s need and nurture our way into Tabby’s Placey spaces everywhere we go today.