These Difficult Times have had their own strange tenderness.
Let’s not lose it when we’re back to…whatever we’re going back to.
At the moment, it looks like we’re going back — or at least frantically, nostalgically attempting to go back — to the 1990s. That’s not an altogether bad choice. The 1990s gave us Tori Amos and Dunkaroos and the official, on-paper existence of Tabby’s Place. (Technically our building opened in 2003, but we’ve been 501(c)3-in’ it since 1999, yo.)
But we’re going about this grasp for simpler times in a strange way. I mean, Vanilla Ice? A Beavis and Butt-Head reboot? Can’t we just bring back The West Wing (Bartlet 2020 please) and neon and the word “dope” as an adjective, as in “Tabby’s Place is so dope I can hardly cope”?
Then again, maybe all this reaching back isn’t entirely necessary. Maybe we just need to reach in, deep into the burning bleeding heart of our own age. We forget, feeble creatures that we are, but These Difficult Times are stitched together with grace upon grace.
Exhibit A: you folks.
Do you have any idea how splendorous you are? (Splendorous people rarely do.)
You have been swamping my phone and inbox with offers to give everything you have. No, I mean literally everything you have: towels and cat food and insulin and empathy and “anything at all I can do right now, I know how much love costs.” (You keep saying stuff like that, you splendors. And you keep making me cry.)
You have been adapting, with the resilience of children and cats and saints, to Tabby’s Place’s current strangeness, dropping off your love offerings under cover of darkness or outside our still-shuttered doors, all with a smile, all with a sweetness all your own.
And beyond adapting, you have been adopting, meeting cats via Zoom and getting into the goofy groove of low-contact adoptions, all masked and marvelous. And you are choosing this time — this very difficult time — to choose “difficult” cats, cats who went overlooked in easier eras. You’re the reason Suite FIV is strangely calm; you have adopted bawdy brawlers and beloved knuckleheads (holy Rufus!). You’re the reason we’re “running low” on FeLV+ cats. You’ve taken in the painfully shy and the garden-variety insane. You love them exactly as they are, and you update us with exuberant emails that steady our hearts for another day.
And you’re not alone. Exhibit B: folks hither and yon and far beyond our seas.
I know you’ve noticed and ached for the quick cruelties and gaping wounds of the world. I have developed an award-worthy case of insomnia courtesy of that very world. (They should give awards for excellence in insomnia. I digress.) But God help us if we don’t also notice how exquisitely, tenaciously kind the vast majority of human beings have been.
Doctors and nurses have turned into chaplains and angels and the first line of lovers who live the fact that greater love has no one than to lay down their life for their fellow creature. Such heroism has not been rare; such tenderness has saved more lives and souls than we will ever count.
Good people with little and large megaphones have used their voices for their neighbors, even if it makes them shake like Magic 8 Balls of mercy.
Neighbors have dared to know each other across half-hidden faces and oceans of awkwardness. I can’t tell you how many times a fellow strolling stranger has shouted across the great divide, “How are you today?” or “Nice to see you!” or even “Cool sneaks!” I can’t tell you how many hand-painted rocks I’ve spotted here and there in our very ordinary neighborhood, smiley faces and sunshines and reminders like “You’re gonna be OK!”
We share squeals and microcelebrations — “There are baby robins over there!” “Did you see that white cat by the blue condo?” “The grocery store is now selling wine!” We leave each other the better parking spots.
We fall over each other — in ways we self-serving beasties never did before — to give each other grace even as we have to give each other space. These little things are not small.
And then there’s exhibit C: the cats. Always, of course, the cats.
Cats are known for rising to challenges as though they were dinner bells, but our residents have raised their game. From dreamy Lucinda to epic-eared Rosita, heart-stealing Hobo to heart-steadying Marjory, they have been here for us in ways we can never repay. Twister alone has done things for our souls that exceed the power of words to describe. I trust you know what I mean; I know you do.
Blessed are the tenderhearted. Blessed are you, beloved cats and humans and creatures of all kinds. And long after These Difficult Times have been downgraded to These Normal-Level-Of-Nutty Times, we’ll still need your heartcraft.
We need not reach back to find the good; let’s just keep it up, together, for the future yet untasted.