We’ve gone and done it again.
By the time you read this post, the odds are we’ll have done it several times. We don’t regret a single one.
That’s not to say we don’t have regrets.
We regret that we have yet to successfully invent a time machine, capable of hurtling us back before the hurts and horrors dug furrows in furry backs like Goodman’s.
We regret that our tears and tenacity fell short of enacting resurrection.
We regret that we had so little time.
But what we don’t regret, and hereby refuse to regret, is doing it again: flinging our chests open to certain heartbreak; flinging our treasures open to long shots that didn’t land; flinging ourselves deep, deep, deep into lives and stories; entering in rather than high-tailing it to safety.
If you’re looking for the quintessential Tabby’s Place cat, set your heart like a seal upon Goodman. Found outdoors, and not a moment too soon, the bedraggled marmalade man had a half-paralyzed face; an angry third eyelid; and bones where there should have been a blubbery, bountiful belly.
The instant he entered our arms, we set to work beefing up that belly. We held him and crooned over him and cartwheeled ourselves heedlessly past the point of no return, the place where your love for another creature is larger than makes sense, and deeper than time can account for, and truer than leathery hearts can ever comprehend.
We — and here I speak of our unspeakably shimmering staff, the whole lot of you lovemonsters, tumbling in after-hours and off the clock to turn back time and turn up tenderness — entered in.
I don’t and can’t and won’t ever blame those who see a Goodman and swiftly say, “good day, sir!” They flee to protect their hearts. The heart is a hobbling thing even on an ordinary day, so who can blame anyone for bubble-wrapping it in caution and distance?
But we don’t really do “distance” at Tabby’s Place.
We get dirty.
We get deep.
We get drenched in our own tears, a situation we are fully aware we could have prevented.
We do not give in to the temptation to hop on the interstate bus to a safer, more sterile existence. We do not, perhaps cannot, turn away from the dark face of the moon, the same moon that shines lovelight into all that we do and all that we are, the moon that won’t give you life without also giving you gasping grief.
We are admittedly cockeyed optimists. Even though Goodman’s swollen face shouted “cancer,” we lit every candle of “maybe not!” and warmed our hearts with hope.
But hope of a desired outcome is neither the only nor the most important kind.
Where Goodman’s future was out of even our matchless vet team’s hands, Goodman’s present was well within our power. Where his history was pocked with holes, we stuffed in all the hope and hugs and holy happiness several lifetimes can hold.
Let the reader understand that ten thousand pages would be too few for me to even begin the prologue for the sacred text of Why Our Vet Team Is Extraordinary. Dr. C, Denise, and Jess moved around several planets and re-strung the constellations on Goodman’s behalf. If matchless care were enough, the weary ginger gentleman would have lived another thirty years.
But we’d entered into a different sort of story.
Despite otherworldly efforts, Goodman began his quiet walk down the long hallway into the light. Dehydrated and anemic, he couldn’t get comfortable. It was our task to love him to the utmost, filling his final moments with friendship even as he slipped our grasp.
He was only with us for two weeks.
It was enough.
It was enough for him to rearrange the architecture of our hearts.
It was enough for him to make and break us.
It was enough for him to become ours, and us to become his.
It was enough to call it a resurrection, even if we won’t meet Goodman again this side of the veil.
This is where the well-meaning friends, with more sober minds and better bubble-wrapped hearts, try to interject.
It’s a reasonable calculus. It’s a stock market of the soul: win some, lose some.
But we can’t stop thinking about the Goodmans.
We can’t count them as anything other than “wins,” even when their losses leave us breathless.
We can’t be convinced that it isn’t entirely, exquisitely, mysteriously worth it even when the outcome takes everything out of us.
We’re not stupid; we know that heartbreak stalks us like a hyena. We enter into each life, getting down on our hands and our knees and choosing to hobble our hearts. Our eyes are wide open to the tears that will blur them over and over and over again.
We’re not stupid.
But we may be fools. And it may just be our most honorable trait.
I think here of Shakespeare’s clowns, the Touchstones and the Festes; I think of holy fools, St. Francis and Dorothy Day and anyone who chooses to work at a sanctuary for cats from hopeless situations. I think of every single hero worthy of the name.
They enter in.
They choose closeness, even the closeness that cuts your own heart from its castle.
Some might say we’re all a bunch of mercy-idiots. May we take it as a compliment. May we take it as a charge to keep. May we take it to heart and hurl our hearts ever closer to the strangers that are ever at our door.
Feline and otherwise.
I’d rather be the mercy-idiot than Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. I’d rather marvel at dust-born strays than condemn in all directions. I’d rather err on the side of expecting resurrection than wall myself off from grief.
I’ll take my chances with the howling grief, the kind that makes you look like a fool (so many tears for a cat you’ve known two weeks!), the kind you think just might kill you, until, at the luminous liminal moment, some great force slaps on an oxygen mask of mercy and you breathe the sharp sweet air of something beyond.
And you rise to love and be loved and dare mercy yet again.
Goodman, it is a good and great thing that you entered our lives.
May we do the same for every shining creature we’re offered to love.