I’m sure this occurs to you all the time. In fact, it’s so obvious, it barely merits mention:
Cats have a lot in common with the people of the Trobriand Islands.
In the U.S. and most other “Western” societies, we love to split our humans up by age.
At church, we shunt the small people off to sing songs and play with felt boards.
In school, we keep the 14-year-olds separate from the 13-year-olds, and God forbid they should cross paths with the 12-year-olds.
And once those small people hit 18, we shuttle them off to a completely separate universe, a sort of feral human holding area called “college.”
This sort of segregation continues indefinitely. The 23-year-olds go to the cool, fair-trade, organic, artisanal hipster coffeehouse. The 83-year-olds go to Denny’s. The 46-year-olds join the PTA. The 64-year-olds join AARP. From our fitness clubs to our hair salons to our music festivals, we keep ourselves clumped apart by our years.
But cats and Trobrianders know better.
First, consider cats. Other than the Kitten Room (which arguably exists more to protect adult cats from airborne kittens than tiny kittens from obese elders), Tabby’s Place is a mixed-age free for all. On exactly zero occasions have I witnessed cats exhibiting age discrimination.
Swing by Suite B, for instance. On one end of the age spectrum is Carrot, all adolescent tumbling and frat-boy roughhousing. Putting him with cats of a certain age is sort of like moving Miley Cyrus into the assisted living facility.
By which I mean, maybe that’s not such a bad idea.
With the arrival of Carrot, Suite B collectively became a little looser, a good bit happier, and a whole lot younger. Middle-aged Steve remembered how to run. (Being Steven, he does not always remember where he’s running, but that’s a minor detail.) Senior Spumoni remembered how he loves to wrestle. Even Faye, seemingly settled into the role of Staid Matron, reclaimed the wildness that made her hair stand on end.
The dance of the ages was set to everyone’s favorite tune.
The same story unfolds throughout Tabby’s Place. In Adoption Room #1, elder statescat Max and Wilford Brimley lookalike Sherpa might seem ready for the rocking chair. But in the presence of sprightly Sammy, they righteously rewind. Approaching his teens, Max plays with new vigor. Resembling a small furred walrus, Sherpa actually holds his eyes open for more than three seconds at a time. (Occasionally.)
And lest we stray into stereotypes, sometimes it’s the graybeards goosing the whippersnappers into fresh youth. At 2ish, Gherkin is chronologically the youngest resident of Adoption Room #1. But this smushy-faced old soul somehow missed the class on clowning, and he’s oh-so-serious. Or, at least, he was. A new best-friendship with 12ish Tucker is rebooting Gherk’s joy with more vim than a vat of pickle brine. In the project of life, the cats are clear: everyone, at every age and stage, is necessary. Together.
A few doors down, Adoption Room #3 is in danger of losing the “little old ladies’ suite” distinction. Young Luna was three years old and 3,000% mentally ill when she moved in. You might think she’d be a menace to senior society — but, in fact, the reverse happened. Life with leisurely ladies like Philippa and Indie has soothed Luna’s screaming soul. After a couple of months in “AR3,” Luna is more likely to rub your legs than eat your face.
Something happens when we take each other in across the years.
Which brings me back to the Trobriand Islands.
In the extremely unlikely case that you don’t already know this, the Trobriand Islands are a series of speckles beside the coast of Papua New Guinea. As a fresh-faced anthropology major, little did I know how much my study of the Trobrianders would pertain to my future calling with cats.
Stumbling and fumbling through the rocky transition to college, I was enamored with how the Trobrianders did adulthood. Did they, like us, send their adolescents far, far away? Did they draw sharp lines between the ages, wresting you from your parents and your elders and making you make it on your own?
No. They sent you to the Young Adult House.
As I remember, this was essentially a large sort of pavilion about fifty yards from the rest of the community. In the YAH, you’d learn to do life with other emerging adults. And when the going got rough or weird or smelly or just kinda lonely?
The entire community was right there.
All together. All united. All hands on deck for the project of life. (And also for the endless, epic project of building “yam houses.” But that’s another story.)
To Trobrianders and cats, a soul is a soul is a soul. Your mileage is a small matter. You are needed by your elders and your youngers and your hapless peers. And you need us, too.
Maybe that guy with the backwards baseball cap needs to teach you HTML coding. (And maybe he’s 75.) Maybe you need to show your teenage niece how good it feels to feel good about yourself. Maybe there’s a dream or a calling or a yam house you’ve not even imagined.
Let’s do this thing, kittens of all ages.