The calendar declares that today is Boxing Day.
It is the day to box up well-intentioned hideous sweaters and return them to the Gap from whence they came.
It is the day to punch the lights out of everything that snuffed our candles in 2022.
It is not, however, the day to box up The Holiday Season(TM).
I do not say this because The Holiday Season(TM) is the one sacred span in which one can obtain condominium-sized, gingerbread-house-shaped shipping containers of Temptations.
I do not even say this because, if you ask the cats (as you always should), New Year’s Day is the real heart of the holidays, the day on which every Tabby’s Place cat formally becomes one year older. (We have to mark their birthdays sometime. They would prefer “at all times, with songs, pageantry, and abundant fruitcake, using Grandma’s special recipe in which all raisins are replaced by shrimps.”)
I say it because, under all the ribbons and carols and candles and kisses from Terrifying Uncle Carmine, The Holiday Season(TM) is a rescue mission.
We forget this, which is why we cry when it arrives and cry when it’s over and spend too much time on the too-little aspects of the whole extravaganza.
But maybe we’re uniquely poised to see the season for what it is at Tabby’s Place. Maybe, in addition to saving cats from hopeless situations and honoring them like tiny emperors, we have a service to offer the winter-walloped world.
Maybe we have the truth by the tail, at least this time of year.
In a seasonless spin cycle of saving cats, “rescue” is always on our minds at Tabby’s Place. We can’t confine our kindness to a few tinseled weeks, any more than we can hold our breath in our lungs. Just when we’ve vaulted into one victory — Kevin corralled in from the chaos; Chicken Salad sprung from a shelter; Infinity appropriately adulated by an AwesomeAdopter; Juel‘s joy-jitney jumpstarted for keeps — along comes the next little face, with anxious eyes and trembling nose and complete claim on our courage.
Some days, we see our own sweetness in action, and we feel valiant. The rescue operation is radiant, resplendent, rock-the-world stuff, and we stand taller than the treeline.
Case in point: the Great Soup Squad of 2022. (Served with a side of both Chicken Salad and Chicken Nuggets, naturally.)
When four suffering snowflakes rode the wind from a south Jersey shelter to Tabby’s Place, our hearts turned to gumbo and our hands sprang into action. (And by “our,” I mean “our vet team, arguably the persons most worthy of the adjective ‘valiant’ since Medieval Times, and also the persons Anka would most like to take to Medieval Times for a giant chicken leg and some family-friendly violence, but I digress.”)
Bisque, Matzoball, Gazpacho, and Bouillon were in need of rescue; this was as obvious as a Santa Hat on a salamander. Their eyes were aching; their fears were shouting; their snowy lanky lives had been jammed into a box of tears, like an angora sweater into a Ritz cracker box.
And so, into our tureen they tumbled, ladled into the love-soup that’s always on the front burner.
It was rescue time. It was unboxing time. It was the time that redeems all time. Several surgeries, a dash of diet changes, and many ministrations of seen and unseen angels later (I speak here of our selfless staff, ornamenting eyes with ointment and warming away worries on the hot plate of healing), four snowy cats were settling into the all-season sunshine that hits you when you’ve been rescued.
Boxed about the ears by music you would never have dared to hope for.
Burst from the four walls of your own fears.
Jolted into the joy that’s supposed to shock us all year.
But some days, we don’t see the fruits of our labors so clearly, and we certainly don’t feel valiant. (Here, as often, we differ from cats, who are born feeling valiant, and go from valor to valor all their lives long.)
Some days, we can’t heal what hurts.
Some days, we can’t rewrite the story. Some days, we have to say “no” to cats who need us and “yes” to our own leggy limitations. Some days, we can’t so much as rescue Humphrey from sulking about like Harrumphrey, or strain the sadness out of scared new sweeties’ stewie eyes, or prevent Alex from delivering boxes of rage to every cat’s doorstep, or convince Frankie (who has blissfully forgotten us by now) and Anka to hit the road as folk duo “Frankie and Anky.”
Some days, we feel like teaspoons trying to empty the ocean, only to keep refilling it with our own tears.
Some days, we don’t feel like rescuers at all.
And those are the days when we need the all-season Holiday Season(TM) to remind us.
Maybe one of the greatest gifts of late December is that jolt.
For a few frenzied weeks, we can’t escape the reminder that this life is astonishing. We mangle it and tangle it in trivialities, of course, but somewhere under our ribs we know: there is something to celebrate here.
In the midst of a dusty world, full of crumpled boxes and questions and lukewarm soup and lonely nights, we’ve been rescued. We’re in the neverending process of being rescued. We have not been abandoned. We light a thousand candles because someone snatched us from the darkness.
And we who have been loved have so much to give.
By that equation, Tabby’s Place — 12,000 humble square feet in a central New Jersey farm town with three delis and no stoplights — is an exceptional outpost on the face of the earth. We are a parable and a promise, a reminder that every day is a rescue operation, and everyone, everyone, everyone, everyone can be saved.
You might say we punch above our weight when it comes to loving forward, loving lavishly, loving relentlessly until the mission is done.
Which, this side of heaven, it won’t be.
But here we are, all together, in the season that need not end.
So go ahead and take down the tree. Take the avocado-print leggings back to the store. Take out the trash bags of tinsel.
But take stock of the good soup boiling in your heart, the fire in your belly that can burn boxes and burst bonds.
Take The Holiday Season(TM) on today’s entirely possible mission. And tomorrow’s. And tomorrow’s. And tomorrow’s.