Would you believe me if I told you that you cannot lose?
I don’t expect you to take my word for anything. I would attempt to convince you that vegan cheese is a war crime, scrunchies the size of grapefruits are perfectly appropriate festooning the heads of 40-year-old women, and daily listening to BTS’s “Butter” is better for your health than ten pounds of riboflavin.
So don’t take it from me.
Do take it from the eminent cookies.
With all apologies to struffoli and cucidati and zaletti and Quintuple Stuf Oreos, the eminent cookies in today’s equation are none other than Ralph and S’mores.
Ralph and S’mores. S’mores and Ralph. Their names ring through the halls of Tabby’s Place like harp music, or, better yet, banjos that need their strings changed every day from heavy use. We just can’t stop singing or swooning. The boys are back in town, and the joys are meteoric around here.
But the boys are, in fact, back in town, which means they have been returned by their “forever home,” which means they are, in the words of worlds we don’t like to visit, “losers.”
They were chosen.
They were cherished. (Let the record clearly state that we shall never cast aspersions on “surrenderers,” nor vivisect their reasons. Being a living creature is complicated, and things fall apart in ways that are not ours to understand. All we can say is “once a Tabby’s Place cat, always a Tabby’s Place cat,” kind of like the Hotel California, or the Mafia.)
Their years stretched out like so many tablespoon-sized drops of dough, baked on down the line until they were slightly crisp around the edges.
But then the kitchen timer unceremoniously shouted DING!, and bliss was burnt.
The boys came back.
It had been many years.
S’mores’s marshmallow filling was a little oozier now, his dark chocolate eyes slightly glazed and hazed by age. Ralph was thinner, and not in the “65 year old man takes up Keto and Peloton” kind of way. Always a sandwich deal, the cookies clung to each other with all the force of high fructose corn syrup and love.
Love that expands uncontrollably, like an exuberantly yeasted loaf of chocolate chip bread, like the universe itself.
Love that guarantees the win.
Ralph and S’mores were “losers” in a certain game, but they never sat down at that card table to begin with.
They were too busy finding room for others at the crowded, chaotic, celebratory feast table that stretches from Ringoes, New Jersey to the rings of Saturn and beyond.
From the hour of their arrival, Ralph and S’mores made it their mission to love us like we’d never been loved.
If it’s true that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less, these un-self-conscious sages were humble confections indeed. Loss was in the distant rear-view mirror; a cluttered collection of creatures in dire need of affection were crowding into the window on the front of the lovin’ oven.
And the best baking show in New Jersey was about to begin.
As you read these words, your friends’ and neighbors’ gardens will be coming to life with perennials and annuals and greenly grinning things of a thousand varieties. More than likely, many such spring-children will be “Proven Winners,” a classic plant brand. But with all apologies to all the tulips and violets and violently vibrant beauties that bring us back to life every spring, life is being won by two eminent cookies.
Ralph and S’mores, the best of friends and best of boys and best of sages, do not want to stand atop the podium alone.
There are infinite blue ribbons, even for crumbly bumblers like us, if we dare.
The only rule for being a guaranteed winner? You must love “even when.”
Even when you are returned.
Even when you are rejected.
Even when you don’t like your own face or your own prospects or your own planet.
Even when you couldn’t define “love” if Cupid, Harry Styles, and Barry White were all present to assist you.
Even when you’ve lost it all.
You haven’t lost it all, you know. You’re simply not that powerful. You haven’t lost it all, and you haven’t been lost. Can’t be. Won’t be.
No matter how the cookie crumbles, you will never, ever, ever lose your ability to love. Not if you lose your home. Not if you lose your homies. Not if you lose your precious creativity. Not if you lose your ability to hear BTS’s “Butter.”
Not even if you lose your wits and your continence and your consciousness of who you are. Even then, at the end of all things, you can cook up something scrumptious by smiling pure love at the people who tend to your ancient body.
Love is a feisty beast.
It looks a great deal like an aging black-and-white cat.
You can be guaranteed winners, so long as you have nothing to prove but the triumph of tenderness.
But don’t take it from me.