Survivor’s guilt

Survivor’s guilt

It’s all too redundant to talk about These Terrible Times.

But what do you do when your particular times haven’t been particularly terrible?

I’m ignoring the ways in which 2020 has been indiscriminately terrible. Yes, we have all had to shelter in place; yes, we have all had to go without nights at the cinema; yes, we have all had to watch those debates, and their aftermath; yes, we are all feared up and awaiting a future we can only dare to wave at from so, so far away.

But many of us — I earnestly hope this includes you — have not suffered all that severely, really.

We have not lost our beloveds to a virus that has no heart.

We have not been left destitute by a situation with an ever-changing configuration.

We have not been so thoroughly unraveled that we can’t keep getting up and getting busy getting the world around us back to “good.”

Is it just me, or does such general okayness make you feel just a smidge…guilty?

Cats, masters as they are of most forms of wisdom (leaving aside the wisdom of “not eating to the point of literal vomiting”), are unfamiliar with such guilt. When they get an extra slab of fish mush, or a reprieve from a visit with Dr. C, or ten times the smooches of their kinsfolk, they don’t feel unworthy.

They feel phenomenal.

Ponder with me one Pancake Rosenberg.

A shy arrival from a TNR colony, Pancake came to us many moons ago with many, many more worries than she can even remember now. She was anxious; she was skittish; she was emotionally unwell in ways to which we can all relate.

But then she softened.

She settled in.

She had her eyes and her cookies-and-cream-colored soul opened to some kind of wild tenderness that life in the wild didn’t prepare her for.

She came to trust us to the extent that we can now surround her with decorative gourds and subject her to self-indulgent photo shoots and thank her with cuddles.

Meantime, other outdoor cats continued to skulk and to slink and to struggle for survival.

Other former ferals continued to distrust us — even us, wonderful glorious luminous beings that we are! — even at Tabby’s Place.

Other others were adopted, but all Pancake perceived was that they left the wonderful glorious luminous place she’d come to love.

Why was she, one very ordinary (by which I mean, of course, magnificent) cat, so lucky?

She couldn’t tell you, any better than she could define that strange term “survivor’s guilt.” She only knows her life is lovelier than she ever expected, and goodness and mercy are actively following her all the days of her life.

And so she lives grateful.

Funny thing about that: receiving all the goodness has also made her a mighty fount of it to others (by whom I mean us, those wonderful glorious luminous beings of whom I have spoken).

Funnier thing: we really, really need Pancake’s goodness.

So maybe there’s something — something strong and sage and sturdy — to be said about giving guilt the old heave-ho, at least this flavor of guilt.*

Maybe we should take our blisses and blessings — even in a terrible year, especially in a terrible year — with grace and gratitude. Maybe we should repurpose the time we spend feeling unworthy, and spend it on smooching someone else with some custom-outfitted blessings of their own.

Maybe we should slather extra syrup on each other’s pancakes, all the more when we taste the gratuitous kindness that keeps finding us.

May it find you today. May you pass it on. And may we all pancake each other with outrageous, unprecedented, unmerited kindness today.

*There is a good and holy role for other guilts, of course, e.g. the guilt you feel when you betray a confidence or insult the music of Mumford and Sons or filch the final Frito. But we do not speak of such today.


Leave a Reply