The world is very different in 2016 than it was in 2003, when Tabby’s Place opened.
Despite coming of age in a digital world, our teenage sanctuary is undeniably analog.
It’s not that our cats don’t appreciate modern conveniences. Ever-improving medications keep our Charlies and Meatballs and Rajas rocking. Bucca‘s pawprint opens my iPhone so she can Snapchat with Catwoman. Felix is campaigning hard for us to install a touchless faucet in the Lounge for his water-wasting pleasure.
The tumble-forward trail of tech helps us to herd humans, too. When one of our cats has been adopted, we can easily, immediately notify numberless thousands of people on social media. When one of our residents is in her final hours, we can text the entire staff, summoning everyone to her side faster than you could flash the bat signal in the sky.
Tech is good. Tech is fun. Tech enables us to take more cat videos and invent better cat insulin and tweet every tabby tale.
Being a teen, Tabby’s Place swims in a digital sea.
But tech can never touch the essence of this place.
This all unrolled on me during some unavoidably analog moments this week.
Tuesday, our dear, dignified old dame Hildegarde honorably ended her fight with cancer and kidney disease. As always under such circumstances, the staff-in-the-building texted the staff-in-other-places, and all who were able gathered around our girl. Emails and calls and private messages popped out to sponsors and supporters and kindred souls. In another time — say, 2003 — we never would have been able to notify so many people so quickly.
But with the flurry of messages finally sent, everything went old-school.
Smartphones and newsfeeds were forgotten on desks as we all skooched around our Hildegarde. Like human Tetris blocks, we shuffled our knees and elbows to fit together in a circle around the cat who was slipping our grasp.
In times like these, touch — fingers on fur, tears on cheeks, arms around shoulders — means everything. With few words but copious communication, we poured forth love for Hilde. It was an unapologetically low-tech vigil.
In this most dreadful hour, there is something sacred about being not only with the cat crossing the veil, but also with other people who loved her. Sharing in someone else’s grief, their shivering shoulder just inches from yours, is a painful privilege. I watched each of our staff members stroking Hildegarde, talking to her softly, saying goodbye in incredibly individual ways.
Skype and Facetime and all their ilk are wonderful things. They enable us to be almost-present to each other when presence isn’t possible. But when you distill us down to our elements, we are embodied creatures, fur and bones and hearts and fingers. Much as our bodies may madden us at times, they are ultimately a very, very good thing. They force us to slow down, match each other’s breathing, feel each other’s presence, love each other here and now.
“Here and now” is stubbornly, irreducibly, astonishingly analog. So are cats. And, in our most humane, most human moments, so are we.
Hug someone this weekend, kittens. Just don’t use an emoji to do it.