I once believed in straight roads and straight lines and straightforward stories.
Then I realized I want friends and love and life in my life.
We love our plans, don’t we? We tie them on with careful little bows, tidy aprons to protect ourselves from the splatter and astonishment and goo of existence.
(The Goo Of Existence would be an excellent name for a band, but I digress.)
But the bows don’t hold. The aprons don’t stay starched. The friends and foolishness and fever of life refuse to remain suspended on screens, behind frames, within boxes.
Feet that toe the line can’t dance.
Going to graduate school for theological ethics, I did not intend to become Chief Fundraiser And Flinger Of Frippery for a cat sanctuary.
Going into a new relationship (feline or otherwise), you did not intend that it would wreck and rock and recreate you into an entirely new person, simultaneously more yourself than you’d ever been before.
Going forward into every morrow that’s called tomorrow, we don’t anticipate the shatterings and shelters and serendipities that will — if we’re wise and lucky and remember how to wiggle our toes — shapeshift us into something that resembles love, little by little by ever-so-little.
Going with the flow, we don’t expect that we will become the flow, the sheltering, shimmering ocean that bears other beasties (feline or otherwise) on our backs.
But we are, all of us (feline or otherwise) marked with magical markers incapable of drawing straight lines from A to B. The tattoos that tell our stories read more like, “A to the edge of a cliff, off which we did in fact drive, into thin air that did in fact become arms, which did in fact bear us to higher heights, to B.”
The highest height we’ll ever know on this earth or any other is that of friendship…but not the friendship we’d find in a catalog.
You and me, kittens, we’re not catalog oglers.
We’re oddities and enigmas and ogres in search of same.
We’re keepers of strange stories.
We amble arm-in-arm down a ribbon of road with no certain landmarks other than love.
We meet and moosh and marvel at Marcus, the everlasting epitome of friendliness, a titan among the tabbular. We tearfully wave our handkerchiefs out the window as he flies away home. And then, upon reports that he has inexplicably turned into striped rage incarnate, we welcome him back. Once a Tabby’s Place cat, always a Tabby’s Place cat, no matter how tortured your tale.
We hurl our hearts around Honey, by many definitions the cat most worthy of her own name. We taste the sweet, only to meet the salty. We do the merengue with her moods. We love her all the more for her meanderings through the honest octave of emotions.
We adore Anka, even if it’s futile to implore him to permit other cats to live. His moral compass is as crooked as his paraplegic spine, his invincible love for humanity outstripped by intergalactic wrath towards cats. His infinite eyes tell conflicting tales. There’s room in our souls and our strollers for all of them. Turkey’s angriest son becomes a bunny when wheeled through our gardens.
We swoon for Shifty, the cat with the wry half-smile and the total dearth of teeth, the psychedelic Viking turned velvet teddy bear. Once he was valiant and vicious; now he elevates vegetation to an Olympic sport, punctuated only by breakfast and second breakfast and brunch and lunch and dunch and desserts #1-117.
We dazzle over Dorothea, silken soot and pure spirit, Dorothy Day courage and Dorothy Gale homesickness and Dorothy From Golden Girls determination and Dorothy Parker wit. She plays and pouts and ponders which of her ten thousand facets she’ll turn face-up in her jewel box today. Every one of her poems deserves a Pulitzer, even and especially the ones in languages she hasn’t yet taught us how to speak.*
We fall prostrate before Adam, wizened tabby of bent back and zonked tail and exuberant incontinence, in the face of which no heart or sweater is safe. We save our highest regard and gushiest esteem for this messy fossil, who walks and plays and processes life on a perpetual slant. He is royalty. He is ravishing. He is righteous in his audacious Adamacity. We would build an entire city called Adamacity in his honor, if we weren’t already so busy cleaning up diarrhea and crafting a community of love.
They are our best friends.
They teach us how to be true friends.
We love them, and each other.
We’re awestruck at the young.
We’re inebriated by the old.
We’re strengthened by those with Special Needs.
We’re reminded that we’re all stitched together entirely of Special Needs, patched by mercy, quilted with quirks and embroidered with over-sensitivity that masquerades as a thousand bravados.
Tabby’s Place cats (feline or otherwise) come in all colors and cacophonies, none of them easy or normal.
Each has come from a hopeless situation.
Each has known the hopelessness of an ill-fitting life.
Each has come to the place where the last are first, the weak are strong, the strange are kings and the merciful are blessed beyond the furthest sardine-shaped stars.
I could write ten thousand thousand volumes on the humans of Tabby’s Place, but if I were restricted to a single word, it would be this: merciful.
They cradle the broken because they’ve been broken.
They exalt the oddballs because they’ve been the odd ones out.
They scoop up the stragglers because they’ve sat by the roadside waiting for the healer to come.
They twirl their hands across proud bent tails because they know what it is to be irrevocably crooked.
On the switchback road to my vocation here, I worked in many churches, but I’m telling you I never met a congregation so holy as the ragamuffin band that is Tabby’s Place.
And so, the first time I heard a certain little stardusted song, I knew it was written for you. For us.
Sung by a man named Langhorne Slim, “The Way We Move” contains a lyric that gave me glacier-sized goosebumps the first time I heard it:
“All my friends got crooked tails.”
Unbeknownst to my ears, Mr. Slim’s lyric actually refers to “tales,” not “tails.” But I think (especially since serendipity made him a local boy; the “Langhorne” in his name refers to a town not 25 miles from Tabby’s Place) that Mr. Slim would accept our adoption of his shimmering song.
All my friends got crooked tails and tales, and that makes me the richest woman in any starcluster.
Knowing you as I do, I think you’ve hit the same jammy jackpot.
You know what I’m talking about.
Our souls become larger when our friends are safe to be strange with us.
Our strangeness becomes our own when we’re at the (loud, bawdy) table with singers of many off-key songs, tellers of true tender tales, wearers of imperfections and brave affections and stories that have shot them like comets into the full sun of today.
I’m not optimistic that any of us is going to straighten out and fly right anytime soon.
That’s very good news for everyone involved.
This is the way we move.
This is the way we love.
This is the way we Tabby’s Place the world (“Tabby’s Place” is very capable of becoming a verb).
Wave your tails and tales high. I’m proud to call you my friends.
*She has, however, told one AwesomeAdopter. Yes, kittens, by the time you read this, Dorothea is delightfully ensconced in her forever home.