Public service announcement: Always speak the sweetness.
Even if you’re nervous. Especially then.
Cats are many things, but if there’s one quality they utterly lack, it’s self-consciousness. Oh, they are plenty self-centered and self-confident and self-satisfied. They work on themselves and better themselves and mostly just delight in themselves.
But question themselves? Query their own adequacy in the eyes of the other? Not so much.
So when it comes to showing you how they feel, cats are not among those who hesitate and are lost. Consider our Cheela.
He’s older than Neil Young but still rocking in the free world. He’s admittedly fading but would still rally his strength to march for mercy and justice. He’s bony, perpetually encrusted in fish mush, and has eyes bigger than the rest of his body, and he’d still look cuter in a mask than you and me.
And he never, ever, ever makes any secret of his appreciation.
If you amble past, hands full or empty, Cheela will cheeeEEEEEER for your very existence with the loudest voice this side of Ringoes’s Got Talent. (“Ringoes’s.” Say that repeatedly. Kinda makes you want to go swish mouthwash afterwards, doesn’t it? But I digress.)
If you so much as pat his head, whether or not you bear a charcuterie tray, Cheela will shooouuuuuUUUT out your praises.
And if — o magnum mysterium! — you do emerge with a fresh coating of fish mush, Cheela will remind you, your Maker, and everyone in earshot that you — yes you! — are the single most glorious being ever to be, and sparkling is the ground that holds your holy feet. Now please surrender the fish mush.
Or consider my Bucca. Back before the world was pandemicky, when we moved freely and my grateful feet brought me into her orbit every weekday, Bucca was bold in her praise. By the time I entered the building, a good twenty feet from my office door, I could hear the victorious howl: “Angela! Is! Here!” Step into my office, and I’d be bombarded with bouquets of affection, all in the form of giddy, impatient screams and frantic rubbings of my legs. Ten thousand thousand roses couldn’t have made me feel more loved.
(Aside that I can’t put aside, not for a single day since All This began: Bucca, I miss you more than the tides miss the moon. I can’t even talk about it. Now I’m going to cry again.)
Lest we think such freedom of affection is the province of the old (Cheela looks a chillion years old; Bucca actually is nineteen chillion), consider kittens. Never will you meet a lover so effusive as a Snickers-sized cat who has just learned to climb your shoulder. Kittens, like the kidlets pictured here, are not afraid to tell you everything that’s in their hearts. (And, despite their tiny size, that is a vast, vast quantity.)
And there’s the secret for us: they are not afraid.
Oh, that we should be so brilliant.
We wobblier beasts are prone to shrink back from splattering each other with kindness. We’re afraid — so achingly afraid — that we’ll be “too much,” turn someone off, look all awkward and awful in our adulation. We’re stingy and scared and shut our mouths when we should be singing.
And once in awhile, we remember.
This weekend, I made my usual sanity-saving circuit around my neighborhood, my feet clipping along as my eyes feasted on flowers. Let me tell you: when it comes to the folks in my surrounding townhouses, their garden game is strong. But nowhere is it stronger than at that house, the corner townhome I always look forward to reaching.
That house has become a hallowed destination for me these many weeks. That house is home to someone with an eye for beauty and a heart for splendor. That house hosts a garden ever-changing in its glory, not allowing a single petal to fade without being replaced by the next wave of wonders. Crocuses, then daffodils, then tulips, then irises, now roses and begonias.
Every day I looked forward to that house.
I pondered often who might be behind this garden, all the more glorious for its tiny size. Someone was spending hours a week tending it, quietly giving a great glorious gift to all who passed by. But I had no one to thank, and gratitude you can’t give is never whole.
Until this weekend.
Sure enough, as I stooped over the peachiest roses this side of heaven, out she came. At least eighty years old, she wore a hot pink shirt and a smile bigger than her whole garden. My face must have registered a moment’s anxiety, smartphone hovering over her blooms, because she smiled and said, “Oh, it’s OK! Do you like them?”
I wanted to gush twelve weeks of gratitude. I wanted to tell her how much her garden, her tiny townhouse garden, had given me hope and joy and even courage in a time of great un-beauty. But I was instantly scared that I’d scare her petals off if I told her just how much her labors of love meant to me.
But something in me was stronger than The Scared, and I gushed. Oh, kittens, did I gush. I probably babbled a good two minutes about her flowers before I finally shut up.
And my grace-given gardener just kept grinning, wider and brighter and peachier than any begonia.
“That makes me so happy! Someone loves them as much as I do!” she nearly levitated. “Oh, I’m just so glad to hear it!” Then she pointed at the petals I’d been admiring. “Those right there are called Happy Chappies. Aren’t they something?”
They’re something much more than something.
And so is the beauty you’ll see in someone today.
So speak, dear hearts. Don’t miss the chance to make some chappies happy in your world. Even if you feel like a fool — even if those chappies think you’re a fool, in which case they are wrong — sing it.
Cheela is cheering you on.