Or is that phoenii?
Whatever the plural form of those birds that rise from ashes, stronger and better and more beautiful than pre-pyre, we’ve met more magical creatures this summer.
It’s one thing — one astounding, archetypal and awesome thing — to rise from the flames intact and emboldened. But it’s something more — quieter, harder, but more — to live with the ashes, taste them, feel all the feelings of the flames gone dark…and then to keep living.
Such was the story for three old cats. One day, a home stood, sacred and beautiful, containing two humans, two dogs, three cats, and ten million helpings of love. The next day, that building — so long the stage for joy and safety — was blackened ash, leveled soot.
Leveled. Burned. Gone.
The family scattered in panic and hurt: one human was rushed to the ICU, the other physically unscathed but shattered; one dog lost his life, one endured…
…and three old cats walked the void that had once been their haven.
Eleven-year-old Bud; 17-year-old Cashmere; and 18-year-old Sunshine weren’t strangers to the outdoors. They’d been permitted outside in the good times, so they knew how to survive. They didn’t know, though — couldn’t know — how to make sense of their home’s death, their family’s departure, the end of all their beginnings.
Through a merciful series of events, the burned-out cats came to Tabby’s Place. Bud, all broad-faced and candy-colored, was the wariest of the family, initially burrowing under blankets. He’d need surgery for entropion, a fairly common eye condition…but first he’d need to find his way to feeling safe with us. Within a few days, his face emerged — and, when you skritched his back just right, so did his happy heinie, in that classic elevator-butt dance of a happy cat.
Happiness — even now. Even here.
Bud’s elders didn’t waste any time making merry. Cashmere, all feather-boa grey glamour and green glorious eyes, became a boneless bundle of rumbling happiness in your arms. Hello, pleasure to meet you! Let’s be soulmates!
Old man Sunshine was every iota his name, but least of all due to his golden fur. That wizened old face seemed to smile unceasingly, and our super-senior could be hilariously assertive in his push for love. He clearly adored Cashmere, and vice versa, but he’d step right on her head if it meant getting closer to you.
So we couldn’t help asking each other in disbelief, did these cats really just go through that?
But they did.
And, while I’m sure they were off-the-charts amazing before, I’m convinced that the nightmare made these marvels even more than they could have been otherwise.
Sunshine’s sparkly joy, Cashmere’s balmy contentment and Bud’s bashful sweetness aren’t in denial of what happened. These cats didn’t have the luxury of an immediate exit, Roman candle-style, from their sorrow. For days — weeks? — they lived in the debris, lived with the questions and the uncertainties and the certain loneliness.
The fact that they are still themselves after it all…well, that speaks a better story than a simple escape. Not quite reborn, they’ve been remade, softened down to clay and remolded as braver versions of themselves.
These are not cats who expect anything. They live with their hands and hearts open, feasting on the grace of the moment. If this moment is rich, this moment is enough; if this moment is grim, this moment will pass.
But grim is not in the forecast, not now, not — please, God — ever again. The oldest of the old have headed — together — to a forever foster home with one of our volunteers, while Bud will continue to blossom here at Tabby’s Place. The odds of his not being adopted strike me as 0.004% — but, even in that “worst case scenario,” the flames shall not touch him again.
Something greater than a phoenix is here.
Hell itself can’t conquer these cats.
And we, as always, are the winners to feel their warmth.