Tell me true, kittens: have you hit a day yet?
Have you suddenly, innocently, inexplicably found yourself shook and shattered and shaken from all the shelters you’d fashioned for yourself in the time of pandemic?
Me, too. Also Talena.
I’m not talking about the low-grade anxiety and lump-in-the-throat grief that seem to be our constant collective companions right now. I suspect you’ve already become a pro at wrangling those.
When 11pm rolls around and that faceless fearfulness gooses you, you have your ways of tucking it back into bed.
When the morning brings an inexplicable urge to run to the grocery store in your stocking feet because you suddenly must obtain all the canned mushrooms that remain, you’re able to talk to yourself like a confused but lovable child and stay inside after all.
But then, just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of quarantine, a day gets hold of you.
You read a story or see a flash of numbers on a screen, and sadness swallows you whole. Suddenly you see all those little old men in Italy who were, a few short days or weeks ago, sitting their espresso and shouting their opinions at each other.
You hear your loved one’s voice as he calls from work, and suddenly you want him home, and safe, and furloughed in the pillow fort you’ve already constructed for such a time as this.
You stare unblinkingly at the headline announcing that your Archbishop has just cancelled all Easter Week services due to plague, up to and including the day that death was defeated.
You look at the store shelf and realize all the canned mushrooms, your canned mushrooms, have been sold.
You see a picture of a Tabby’s Place cat, and the next thing you know, you can’t stop crying, oh gosh really can’t stop, what is wrong with me, why can’t I stop?
You wonder what’s next. You can’t remember what came before. You’re twitching in a “now” that feels like multiple, overlapping worlds that aren’t on speaking terms with one another.
I want to promise you that still, even now, you’re OK.
We are, all of us, children in this long, lingering moment. Even the grown-ups in the room don’t have a road map for this, and much as we all want to take care of each other, we don’t know exactly how to do that.
As often in cases where we feel small, we’re wise to turn to smaller creatures. Enter Talena.
With her mocha mustache and plumes of tortoiseshell tuftage, Talena looks like a cat fully in charge of her powers. Surely a creature this beautiful, this commandingly charming, is immune to feeling like a orphan standing in the middle of Times Square wearing ill-fitting overalls and one wet sock.
But Talena knows trouble, and Talena knows terror, and Talena is here to tell us that she has seen the other side.
Talena came to Tabby’s Place from a shelter shaken by her shyness. These were/are exceptionally good, loving people; they exerted their considerable powers to convince Talena that love is safe; their hearts were consistently broken by her iron-clad terror.
And so, through a happy series of circumstances, Talena was trundled off to Tabby’s Place.
I suppose we’re known for loving anxious creatures all the way to peace.
In Talena’s case, the peace process has been a dainty foxtrot, back and forward and careful and charming. From our holding rooms to our suites, she’s seen and she’s learned and she’s accepted that affection just might not kill her. On her best days, she thoroughly delights in our doting, accepting that affection just might save us all.
But Talena still has days.
Talena would be the first to tell you that, on multiple occasions every week, she is still a kitten. Talena would be the last to tell you she felt any shame in this. The truth is, she’s still all shook up, often. It would puzzle and vex her to hear humans say they aren’t. Trust and surrender are terrific, but sometimes you’re gonna want to reach for your crash helmet.
Isn’t this part of being alive, feeling feelings, having a heart that’s soft and squashable and tender?
Doesn’t this come with the territory of living in a world both terrible and glorious?
Shouldn’t we expect to get shook?
Mustn’t we be kind to each other and ourselves when we do?
Take it from Talena, kittens. You’re bound to get some electroshocks of anxiety or anger in these days. You will hit walls, and walls will hit you back, and some hours and days you won’t be able to concentrate on anything more than eating all the carbs.
Please trust Talena and me: this is all temporary.
The days of terror always give way — I swear to you and to me that they do — to days of ferocious hope.
The day after you weep at the sight of cats you can’t hold, family you can’t touch, patients you can’t heal, you’ll look out your window and see the Northern Magnolia blooming and cry with hope. Forsythia and tasty frankfurters and the fortitude of cats and humans and nations will surge through you like fresh strength.
You will laugh again. You will work hard again. You will encourage other people again, all the more for having been shook. And when the shakes come to shiver you the next time, they — we — will hold you tight.
Take it from Talena. Take it from me. Take it from that deep, bright well inside you that never stops glowing, even when the light on the water shakes.