Any number of things may be causing you to burn awake under the moon this fall: Iraq. Ukraine. Kanye West. The thousand tiny terrors that puncture your peace.
These just might be the times that try cats’ souls.
You just might need the reminder that joy wins.
I’m convinced that the cats are continually telling us, if we can hear it, a sort of never-ending fairy tale. I don’t mean the sterile Disneyfied sort, but the real, scary fairy tales that speak to something deeper than our own hearts. As my homeboy G.K. Chesterton put it:
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
We know the pain is real. When the dragons are all too real and large and roaring, we need to know that they won’t ultimately win.
I’m blessed to introduce that reminder in the form of an update from a certain radiant member of our species. Please lift our faces to the light, BarleyMama:
“We adopted Barley in July 2013. Countless others fell in love with his fluffy head, runny nose and sweet disposition, but I was lucky enough to bring him home forever.
I’m the lucky one that gets his snot rubbed all over my face. I’m the lucky one that falls asleep to his gentle purr/snore. I fell in love with the irresistible way his little nub of a tail wags when he’s happy, or the way his huge puppy-dog eyes stare up at me at 4 am. He knows I’m powerless to his charms; I can deny him nothing.
“I wasn’t aware the extent of schmoopy names I was capable of until Barely came. Sure, I spoke baby talk to our other 2 cats. But with Barley, I’ve brought it to a whole new level.
“It’s not just me that’s overcome with Barley-itis. My husband suffers from Barley Love Syndrome, or BLS. Come to my house and prepare yourself for Barley to climb on your lap, purr for the duration of your visit, and sneeze a few times all over you. Most people don’t mind the extra germs, and those that do, we assure, ‘you’ve been blessed by an Angel.’ We couldn’t be more serious.
“Unfortunately, I can’t be a stay-at-home cat mom. So it’s understandable that, as we work long hours, I wonder who’s absorbing his love in our absence. Our other two cats? Probably not enough. Our Willow is like Jackie and would rather that you just die. Our BB is like Boom; one minute they’re best friends, the next minute, frenemies.
“So we came to the conclusion Barley needed a BFF. Several visits to Tabby’s place later, we narrowed the choice to two shy girls: Paulette or Opal. Both of these longtime Tabby’s Place residents greatly benefited from the socialization program, and both were deserving of adoption. Shout out to whoever socialized them!
“Opal can be described as mesmerizing, with a hauntingly beautiful look to her. She’s a true gem, with her good looks and eyes that pierce into your soul (you know what I’m talking about).
“Then there’s Paulette, plain, nothing-special older tabby, who happens to have one eye. And dandruff. And a little junk in the trunk. But that’s just on the surface.
“Both girls are incredibly gentle, accepting of other felines and people, with a quiet understated grace. But it’s no wonder they’re still at Tabby’s Place. When walking into their suite, you are bombarded with big, bodacious Virginia; exotic recent newcomer Meatball; not to mention Jackie…
“Paulette is too easily overlooked. It’s natural to gravitate towards the colorful personalities or the pretty cats, just as it is pretty flowers — or pretty people, for that matter. The allure of beauty is too powerful. It can result in who gets adopted, who gets the promotion, who gets ahead in life.
“Or does it? Paulette and Opal are certainly two of the finest flowers at Tabby’s. Opal is a rose, with all the allure but no more thorns holding her back. Paulette I see as a thistle. Some consider it a weed, but it’s actually a plant of sorts. It grows strong and tall. It survives, and thrives in any climate. Try to remove one from your garden. It will take you all day. But let it grow long enough and you’ll watch it bloom the finest purple flower.
“That’s what Tabby’s Place allowed. They embraced Paulette out of kindness. Healed her. Let her be herself, then gave her the tools to trust another species. To let them remove her eye and all of her teeth out of medical necessity. Let them give her injections every day to combat her illness. She will still purr, knead, head-butt, and bloom despite it all.
“At first glance, she looks plain, scarred, afraid. She’s anything but, however. She’s strong, she’s smart, and has nearly the loveliest peach-colored hue under her chest and belly. When the sun hits her just right, she glows deep russet. Her doe eye looks at you and melts your heart straightaway.
“Somehow, I can identify with Paulette. As a woman, I know the perils of not being outwardly beautiful. I will never be Cindy Crawford or Mila Kunis. I am plain. Maybe I’m like Paulette; plain, shy and understated. Really though, at the heart of it, we’re all looking for the same thing. To continue on with Life and be Cherished.
“The decision to adopt Paulette was a relatively easy one. We worried that she would regress somewhat, after all the progress she’s made. We worried we wouldn’t treat her diabetes right. But we all did OK.
“And the girl is OWNING it.
“I am happy to report that, nearly 4 weeks later, Paulette is fully integrated into our home, and of course loving Barley. I can only wonder if they know they have so much in common. There’s not a tooth among them. One’s missing a tail, the other an eye. Both Tabby’s Place alums love to head-butt, snuggle up together and lay in the sun.
“Paulette has her own window sill that she spends her afternoons in. She watches the birds in the bird feeder and enjoys being brushed. All of her dandruff is gone, and her coat is now silky smooth. She meows, she purrs, she rubs her scent all over the place, she explores dark closets and is a true pampered house cat.
“When Willow hisses, growls and swats at her, Paulette continues on with out fear, without cowering like the boys do. She doesn’t wince, nor does she provoke. She’s just that confident and strong. She reserves her love for those willing to accept it, such as Barley, my husband and myself. When BB comes to sniff her or sit near her, Paulette allows it most graciously.
“Her diabetes is under control. She is such a trooper getting her injections; she barely complains at all. We should all be more like her. Take life in stride, roll with the punches (and the shots), make new friends, try new food, watch the birds fly by. Walk amongst the bullies, the Jackies, the Willows as if they can’t hurt you. Willow barely hisses now. She growls a little, but realizes she can’t intimidate Paulette.
“In all fairness to Willow and Jackie, they are strong confident women cats. And it’s their prerogative to like or dislike you. That’s what I love about those quirky cats.
“Once again, we’re the lucky ones to have Paulette and Barley and Willow and BB. I truly believe there isn’t any cat unworthy of love or adoration. Maybe that’s what we call have in common with Tabby’s Place. Even the crazy Jackies or intense Hallies, the beauty queen Tinkerbells, the complicated Maggies, the late and great feral Scooter with his legendary soul patch, the shy Opals, the wondrous Goldies (I love him x 100). They’re all beautiful, just like we are. We just have to OWN IT.”
And just like that, oh, we are back in the hope that holds us. The battles and the terrors and the shatterings are still there, for now. But all the dragons in the world can’t burn away the deeper magic of our hope.
BarleyMama, you and your family are a foretaste, an outpost, of the love that will someday cover the world as the waters cover the sea. Keep loving. Keep rejoicing. You are on the winning side.