When you’re human, it’s easy to drowse into climate-controlled forgetfulness.
But when you live with cats, it’s impossible to forget that you are more than your mind.
If you see folks with dark-grey smudges on their foreheads today, fear not; soot-pooping birds have not firebombed your town.
In the Christian tradition, today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. As a priest or pastor smudges ash from the embers of last year’s palms into the shape of a cross, he or she reminds the mind inside each forehead:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Cheerful, I know. But track with me, kittens.
We forget, we creatures of the mind and soul, that we are also creatures of the earth and soil and, yes, dust. Zippy dust, yes, even stardust at our best — but dust nevertheless.
One of the benefits of working with cats is that they remind us of this continually. To love a cat is to love his or her particular flesh and fur and inescapable earthiness.
To love Morgan is to love his sticky-uppy orange fur and quiet meow.
To love Bonnie is to love her raspy nose-breathing and perpetual boogers and oceanic eyes.
To love Casper is to love his knuckled-under walk and forehead smudge of grey glory.
To love the late, great Georgie was to love him through the shock of an FIP diagnosis, the bloated belly and grief of goodbye.
The bonds we share are inextricable from the purrs and the poop, the mud and the blood and the beauty of it all.
We are more than our bodies, but we are not other than our bodies.
Whether or not your forehead will be ashed this evening, the promise is for you: you are dust. You are mud. Yet you are also the breath of God. You will return to dust — you, and me, and John Oliver, and the cat you love more than mercy — but we shall be changed.
Ash Wednesday is real. Lent, with its loss of light and chocolate and concupiscence, is real.
But Easter is the reality that will win.
Accept your cats and your ashes, body and all. Accept the ashy glory and earthy essence of yourself and your loves. And accept the hope that hope shall triumph and dust shall dance. The bodies sown in ash shall be raised in undying flame — you, and me, and Georgie, and each one who’s slipped beyond our touch.
You are a piece of work, kittens. And your body, soul and spirit are one fine, complicated, messy and magnificent beast. Press on in this work of love. Your labor is not in vain.