These are, as they say, the times that try men’s souls.
And women’s. And congresspersons’. And wombats’. And the soul of language itself.
The cats and their souls are just fine, of course. More on that in a moment.
But first, a nod to us poor creatures, tested and tried and tumbled on high heat these past weeks. How are you doing, kittens? Have you mapped every dandelion in your neighborhood? Brushed your cat until you can see your face reflected off his coat? Read the complete and unabridged works of Edith Stein? Written something even better? Eaten all the Kudos bars in central New Jersey?
Made it to another day after day after day? Congratulations: you’re doing fine.
I hope you know I’m rooting for you, and counting on you to be rooting for me, too. We are, as is said too often yet never enough, all in this together. You know and I know that none of us would be standing if we weren’t leaning on someone else, momentarily stronger than we are until the dance shifts.
I hope you know, too, that it’s OK if this Whole Thing has made you quiet. I have a feeling you know what I mean. Whether we planned it or not, suddenly we’re all pondering things in our hearts instead of our words, and it’s entirely alright.
Under ordinary circumstances (there being, of course, no “ordinary” circumstances), I’m a gabby introvert who will not shut up once I’m comfortable with you, nor stop typing once the words wrap around me like great guarding birds of prey. Words — sweet words! — are the coin of my realm.
Until they aren’t.
It’s hard to write about the cats when I can only see them across mediated media. (And be it known that Bucca does not Zoom.) It’s hard to talk about the defining event of a generation when you are that generation, and it’s all still being defined. It’s hard to talk at all when your days are topsy-turvy and all you really want to do is be, preferably at peace.
And it’s hard to lean on language when it’s as limited as we are.
As usual, we are wise to turn to cats.
The little ones are smart enough never to depend on something so slippery as talk. It’s been speculated that cats may meow primarily for our benefit: somewhere in history, they learned that we’re pretty poor at the more sophisticated ways of body language, so we make loud sounds at each other to get our point across. If cats wanted to get our attention, they’d have to stoop to our loquacious level. It’s kind of like how we start TALKING LOUDER to someone who doesn’t speak our language.
At the same time, our feline keepers hope we can learn (such optimists, these cats!). Patiently they tutor us in the talk of the tail, here wrapped around our leg in solidarity, there twitching with ticked-offitude. Their eyes say more than our rivers of words, and they give us permission to simply gaze and sigh and ponder when the words would weigh too much in our mouths.
If your day gave you nothing to discuss, don’t deem it a failure; just breathe and lay warm on the couch, sharing the easy silence of the cats who would eagerly share their secrets, if only we would listen. If your heart is too burdened to burst out in sentences, stay quiet; treasure up the torrent in your spirit until the words return. And if you’re beyond the reach of even casual conversation, cozy up in a large cardboard box for as long as you need. (Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.)
When the words fail me, which is to say daily, I’m trying to lean into their limits. And here, both cats and children help. Have you ever noticed how tiny humans are linguistic acrobats, fearlessly tweaking the terms to suit their needs, profound beyond their intentions? I think of a little boy I once knew who regularly warned people against taking things “for granite.”*
Isn’t that exquisite? Isn’t it exactly the warning we all need?
We’re not granite — not you, not me, not the cats, not our words. We are soft, permeable things that can hurt and hold and heal each other, and we require excruciating tenderness to get through even typical times. We get ourselves into trouble when we imagine we are immovable. We are more kites than colonnades, but fortunately we’re carried on a wind that is both merciful and good, even if we can’t see from whence it comes or where it goes.
So let the breeze bear you even when you can’t bear to speak a word, kittens. Let the cats comfort you and convince you that you are far more than anything you could say. And let’s all remember not to take each other for granite. We — you — are precious, and fragile, and going to be OK.
Even when the words aren’t there to say so.
*The same little sage called townhouses and similar abodes “condoms,” and Dannon products “gurrrrrt.”