We see a lot at Tabby’s Place. Some days, it seems we see it all, feel it all.
And then we meet a cat who’s out-felt the whole lot of us.
We don’t know exactly what the tender years were like for the grey-and-white cat. But, we’re pretty sure there were some warm and fuzzy feelings involved. You don’t generally trudge your way to a trusting heart all on your own — and a trusting, kind heart was at the heart of this homeless soul.
But whatever those warm days brought, they’d been blown back into a distant past. The trusting cat had fallen sharply into the Era Of Terrible Feelings.
Fallen…or, more accurately, been pushed. By a car.
Before the anguished eyes of all the saints and angels, the skinny cat was struck — smashed — nearly smithereened — by a vehicle. As quickly as it happened, it was over.
And another era had only just begun.
Through a frenzy of circumstances, the shattered creature came to Tabby’s Place. Trusting heart and twisted limbs and all, the cat was so marred beyond recognition that gender was the last of our concerns. And so, it became necessary to choose a name that would work whether we had a he or a she — ergo, Riley.
Perhaps the name was also an act of defiant faith. Whatever life remained for the trusting heart in this tattered body, it would take a miracle or a million to resemble the life of Riley.
That first fateful night, Dr. Fantastic — our trusted emergency/specialty vet — minced no words. Riley’s prognosis could only optimistically be called “grave.” Riley’s brain swelled perilously inside a fractured skull; his femur was shattered, his lungs bashed with contusions, his jaw fractured, his hip bone wrenched out of joint.* If he survived the night, multiple surgeries lay ahead; even then, his brain might be so damaged that life was lost before the battle began.
We all felt for Riley. But we couldn’t — even if we wanted to — feel what Riley felt.
This is that hard hinterland where compassion churns into fog. The very word — com-passion — literally means “to suffer with.” And we do; oh, heavens, we do. We suffered with Riley, wept for Riley, bombarded heaven with prayer for mercy for Riley. Compassion was our motor.
But exactly what Riley felt was known only to Riley and God.
Through six days, two surgeries and approximately eight hundred thousand text messages between Dr. Fantastic and each member of the Tabby’s Place staff, Riley continued feeling, breathing, living. In fits and starts, we saw shards of soul beyond the suffering. Riley was, in fact, a “he;” Riley was rubbing the cage bars; Riley opened his enormous green eyes; Riley made no protest for the million ministrations of the best specialists this side of Swaziland.**
Riley braved all the feelings, even when he felt terribly. And, much as I can hardly fathom it, we know beyond doubt that Riley felt terribly.
Still, he let himself feel. We felt with him. And finally, finally, he came home to Tabby’s Place.
Those first days in our arms, Riley rarely lifted his head. His long, noble nose buried in blankets, he smothered himself in sleep, doing his best to outlast the worst. We woke him only when necessary, gently nudging nutrients into his feeding tube, treating his healing bones with a laser, keeping his pain medication steady, dreaming of the life of a Riley made right.
Riley dreamed on.
And slowly, feeling by faint, flickering feeling, the life he was meant to live fumbled its way to the surface.
I won’t tie this up with a too-tidy bow, kittens. Riley and reality deserve better, and the truth is always better than the tidy ending. Riley’s road remains long; he’s out of the woods but into the brambles, and we know there will be sticks and setbacks as we lead him out into the light.
But as we feel it all together, Riley’s the one leading us to fondness we’ve never felt before. His trusting heart beats on, loving us, loving life, rejoicing even before the life of Riley is — well, the life of Riley.
Life is hard. Life is complex. But life together, feeling together, is worth it all. Here’s to putting each other back together again, as only trusting hearts can do.
*I have no idea if there are excellent veterinary specialists in Swaziland, but I hope there are.
**Like Jacob. Never put it past a cat to wrestle with the divine.