In the words of Zora Neale Hurston, there are years that ask questions and years that answer.
2016 is doing an awful lot of both.
How many losses can one cat sanctuary endure?
Is the presidential election one extensive psychological experiment and/or ill-begotten prank?
Did we really need the return of Crystal Pepsi?
Can’t some cats just keep living? Even just a couple, please?
More than we would have thought we were capable of.
I sure hope so.
Yes, yes we did.
If ever there was a cat for whom the usual laws of life and death did not apply, it would seem to be Toya. Though a thousand would fall around her, Toya lived on.
Toya was one of the originals at Tabby’s Place. She was the last sanctuary resident with an ID number under 100. (That’s #90, to be exact. For reference, we are now at nearly #2,100.) She had more Tabbiversaries under her belt than anyone except Jonathan, Sharon and Dr. Collins.
That’s twelve-plus years at Tabby’s Place.
That’s twelve-plus years of asking and answering all kinds of questions, giving and receiving all kinds of love.
That’s also approximately three-plus years of giving and receiving all kinds of grief. Toya first came to us, fresh off the Grim Reaper’s list at a public shelter, with a chip on her shoulder and a mouthful of teeth ready for action. The Toya of 2004 was such a powder keg of violence that the staff of 2004 would literally flip a coin to see who had to clean her Quarantine crate.
(If you’re wondering why so few staff members remain from 2004, now you know. Toya dispatched them.)
But if twelve-years-ago-Toya was a pipe bomb, seven-years-ago-Toya was…well, I won’t go so far as to say a powder puff. But she was a different sort of sparkler, beautiful rather than destructive, celebratory rather than slash-and-burn.
It was all because of the stubborn love of one very, very old woman.
The very, very old woman was so smitten with Toya, teeth and temper and all, that she was determined to adopt her despite all our cautions. (“She will bite you. She will bite you hard. You will bleed. You realize you will bleed, right?”) We were so sure that this was Toya’s one shot at adoption that we were not throwing away her shot, even though the very, very old woman was so very, very old that we suspected their time together would be short.
And so it was: just over a year.
But unconditional love is the most transformative force in heaven or on earth. The alchemy of grace had its way with Toya, and the cat who returned to us was a cat whose deepest question had been answered once and for all.
And so nine-years-ago-Toya returned transformed: still completely herself, yet made new. She was comfortable in her tricolor skin, willing to be known and touched, willing to let other creatures live and love her. There was no more posturing, nothing left to prove. She lived each day in the Lobby — of course we moved her to the Lobby to spoil her, a consolation prize for losing her very, very old woman — with her feet light upon the earth, enjoying the moment, enjoying us, letting us enjoy her. She had no sense of urgency, no more furious intensity, just a quiet contentment in the face of each day’s mysteries.
Somewhere along the way, three-year-old Toya became nine-year-old Toya became seventeen-year-old Toya. I hope you’ll forgive us for somehow forgetting that on a daily basis. Toya wasn’t “old;” she was Toya.
She was going to go on forever.
She was one of the originals, after all.
Cancer came calling for Toya all of a sudden in late summer, and it roared ahead with relentless anger. Toya’s cancer knew no quiet contentment, and it did not walk lightly upon our Toya. Before we knew what was happening, it was time to say goodbye.
But I have it on unimpeachable authority that grace’s alchemy isn’t done here. The same power that transformed Toya from fear to love holds her still. The mother of all “yes”es is yet ahead. Life eternal will come for Toya, and we will see her again, raised and radiant and fully alive like never before.
“Death will be swallowed up in victory” is more than a pleasant thought. If it’s not true, after all, it’s not pleasant at all. But it is true, and it will be true for Toya in the fullness of time.
Until that day, every year will ask hard questions. But even when every door to hope seems scrawled with “NO,” we know the truth Toya taught us: the real answer is not yet.
Until we meet again, beautiful girl.