Warning: deep thoughts ahead. If you smell something burning, consider yourself warned.
I’d venture to say that much of the pain in the world is caused by exclusion. The human world, that is.
You instinctively know it when you see it: the way the conversation changes when you walk into the room. The subtle pivot of a shoulder away from you. A “harmless” comment that establishes an “in-group” and “out-group” in a syllable. A single arched eyebrow.
You’re present — welcome to stay, even — but you’re 10,000 miles from the heart of what’s happening. In a flood of words or none at all, it’s clear: you are hereby instructed to note that you are less than everyone else in the room. You are not part of them. Not wanted. Not cool enough.
It would cost us so little to show hospitality to each other — but instead we defend our own little empires of self-importance, widening the moat with inside jokes and over-the-shoulder grimaces, all for five minutes of feeling like we’re on the inner ring. It’s cotton candy for the spirit, gone in an instant, with a residue of decay.
I’m the first to admit that I talk a far better game than I play here. I wish I could honestly report that I’m immune to the lures of savoring the “in crowd” at the expense of unwitting outsiders. But, more often than I care to admit to myself, I know I’ve failed to full-heartedly welcome new or awkward faces into the heart of a conversation. I’ve buoyed my own tottering ego with the dollar-store rewards of a moment on the “inside.”
And my soul has suffered for it.
For our species, awareness and a certain softness of conscience can help. For our favorite species, no such interventions are needed: cats simply do not exclude. At least, not in the way we do.
Dobro and his harem will exclude you, okay — but that’s because you’re human and they genuinely hate you,* not because you’re not on their “cool list.”
Natalie once ate a lizard, which I suppose you could argue is a form of exclusion — but that’s because she was hungry and he was delicious, not because he couldn’t spar with her intellectually.
Yet a cat will never, ever, ever reject you — or another cat — because you’re a dork, or new, or slow on the uptake, or just plain peculiar. (Which is, needless to say, good news for humans, since, compared to cats, we are all of the above ad infinitum.)
Maybe you dream of being a yak herder or a barge captain, and none of your friends in Harlem understand.
Maybe you love Gary Busey so much it hurts on the inside.
Maybe you eat haggis for three meals a day, and your feet smell like cheese, and you wear umbrella hats to black-tie events.
It’s okay. Come snuggle. You cannot be too uncool for a cat.
Perhaps this is why we call cats “cool” in the first place. Maybe “cool” as we usually use it is a misnomer, and the really rad ones are the creatures who abandon all sense of coolness to just plain embrace.
It works within the feline realm, too: witness old man Felix and young woman Sage grooming and spooning. The only things they would appear to have in common are the shared species of felis catus and a history of diarrhea, and I’m fairly confident they did not meet on DiarrheaMatch.com. Yet their adoration for one another is limitless. (And adorable.)
Or consider Steve and Samantha. He’s gregarious, gabby, and averse to the litterbox. She’s terrified, well-behaved, and prison-born. He wants every human to touch him, and he’ll follow your voice in and out (and in and out and in and out) of the suite/solarium as you move between the two, literally exhausting himself trying to stay close to you. She’ll do the opposite, fleeing through the tube in the opposite direction of humanity. But for one another’s company, they stay in one place, sunning and serene.
My favorite example is Levi. You might think — and we did fear — that the Lobby hipsters, with no shy and bashful cats among them, would try to show the 900,000-year-old, blind, deaf tuxedo who’s boss. If ever there were a candidate for exclusion from the in crowd, it would be Levi. But they’ve done no such thing. Boots doesn’t bash him. Jenny, who suffers no fools, walks respectfully around the old man. Even Gunther affords Levi appropriate dignity.
I could go on. Ancient Cookie cuddling young gun Boots. Peachy “I Abhor Cats” Rosenberg snoozing within 2″ of Babs “I Abhor Creatures” Rosenberg. Dina and Rangpurr welcoming everyone into their “fort” of a tree in Suite B.
No exclusion. No coolness. No in crowd or out crowd.
And for us, there’s a perpetual invitation: Come on in; the love is fine.
*Now don’t write me and argue that Dobro and company don’t really hate us. They do. No, really, they truly do. We love them, but some of the cats certifiably hate us. It’s okay. Our therapists are helping us to deal with it.
Photo credits, from the top: Jessica, Mark, Jessica, Jessica, Mark. Jessica + Mark = guaranteed explosion of photographic magnificence. And, just ’cause I think you guys are keen and swell, here’s a photo of Felix and Sage from Staff Jess (taken through the suite glass, so as not to disturb a magic moment):