You are not permitted to intentionally create disagreeable odors in Alabama.
You are not permitted to produce cheese with undesirable odors in Wisconsin.
You are permitted to be deeply and exuberantly happy, regardless of your odors, vapors, etc.
We are small and feeble-minded creatures, we human beans, and so we tend to forget the most important things. (We are pretty good at remembering all the characters in Game of Thrones and all the flavors of Cheez-Its, though, which is worth something.)
We forget that, even in tempestuous, terrifying, tumultuous times, we are allowed to be happy.
We forget that, even in a world walled in with weirdness and uncertainty and things like COVID-19 and Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies Cereal, we are allowed to rejoice.
We forget that, even when our sinuses are acting up and our pancreases are broken and our legs don’t run as fast as they used to, we are allowed to be enamored of our lives and ourselves and our utterly imperfect circumstances.
We forget, but our sages remember.
I am, of course, speaking of cats.
There’s nothing fancy about frolicking when the sky is blue and the magnolias are making eyes at you. There’s no great glory in giving way to dancing when you feel fully yourself, healthy and hale and up to all challenges. When everyone’s your friend and every word you say is lauded and applauded, it’s almost too easy to embrace existence.
But when your teeth are a crumbling shack and you’re peppered with malignancies…when the world around you is unfamiliar and full of freaky folks with funny faces…when you have no idea where you are or what comes tomorrow…can you be expected to be joyful?
You can if you keep company with children and saints and angels and Grecca and Bellamy (who fall into several if not all of the aforementioned groups).
Together with Consetta and five other luminaries, Bellamy and Grecca galloped into Tabby’s Place from New York just as winter gave way to spring. But unlike our sweaterless coquette, these two new Lobby denizens are anything but demure. If Consetta is Parisian, Grecca and Bellamy are pure New York.
Pure, improbable, inimitable joy.
Grecca’s entire face appears to be one grand grin crowned with colossal, cheerful eyes. She leaps and loves and scampers and celebrates as though she’d just gotten the news that she’s won ten billion dollars, and also there is peace in the Middle East, and Mumford and Sons are releasing three new albums.
But Grecca has received no such news. Grecca is battling not only mammary cancer, but also painful putrid teeth, old age, and the indignity of having been taken from New York City to a bumpkin town that wouldn’t know a good bagel if it pelted them in the head.
Grecca “should not” be filled with joy.
Grecca did not receive that memo.
And Grecca is giving all of her considerable gusto to the task of getting everybody else hopelessly happy, too.
Her partner in this crime is one Bellamy, a long-legged love muffin with his own arsenal of unhappies. Bell’s teeth are nearly as beastly as Grecca’s, and he’s so hyperthyroid, he wants to start a Zydeco band called The Thyroddities.
Bellamy and all his bodily oddities are quite at home at Tabby’s Place…and he’s Bell-bent on making us feel at home in our own skins and our own rebellious joy, too.
There was one rad dude in the New Testament who, despite having the infinitely rad name “Barnabas,” acquired an even radder nickname: “The Son of Encouragement.” Our own B-boy evidently has a picture of Barnabas over his bed to spur him own in his own mission to make others happy, and brave, and exultant against all odds. Grecca, meanwhile, means to be the first Daughter of Encouragement.
It is beyond question that both of these cats feel pretty wonky a pretty good percentage of the time. Despite our best ministrations (and rest assured they are many: dentals! surgery! rivers of fish mush!), these aging angels will never feel like unfettered kittens.
They will, however, make the most of these golden hours. They will not wait for some moment of pacific perfection when life will be somehow worthy of love. They will not hold back the tidal wave of joy that, should they sit on it, would only grow brittle and old, incapable of encouraging anyone else ever again.
Into every life, so our mothers told us, a little rain must fall. Some of us get misted; others get monsoons; there’s no explanation to be found.
But sprinkled or soaked, none of us skate through unscathed. Those with tender hearts suffer perhaps the most. (Yes, I’m talking to you. And me.) It can feel wrong to feel right when our world and our bodies and our anxieties are less than encouraging.
That’s why we need to listen to our encouragers.
We need to listen to Bellamy when he promises us: you are allowed to taste the sweet even when it’s circled by sour.
We need to listen to Grecca when she assures us: you are permitted to love your life even when it limps.
We need to listen to the Venerable Bruce Springsteen when he insists that “it ain’t no sin to be glad that you’re alive,” even in the midst of the badlands, and they are all badlands, bad and beautiful and mixed-up and ours.
We need to listen to each other, and shake each other, and shout, “YOU’RE ALIVE! My stars, you are alive! Let’s celebrate!”
If we listen and laugh and marvel long enough, maybe someday we’ll even become Children of Encouragement.