When my beloved snow angel cat died, I grasped at plush through the fog. Specifically, I found myself bringing home a very large stuffed lion from the grocery store.
Like my Pippa, it would sleep in my arms and catch my tears in its fur. Like my Pippa, it would be approximately six pounds of “warm” and “soft.”
Unlike my Pippa, it would be contained and controlled and so no real comfort at all.
When Bucca died (two days before Pippa, and no, we shall not wake the volcano of grief by further discussion today), I stumbled around Tabby’s Place for a purring beanbag willing to humor my hug-hunger. I found many “pick-uppable” cats, many warm friends, many amiable affection-buckets into which to rain my tears.
Not a single one of them behaved precisely as I would have asked.
Not a single one of them bent to my will or my wobbly willow arms, well-meaning though they were.
Not a single one of them was a puppet or a potted plant or a sycophant or a stuffed animal, which is precisely why they were all comforting.
I thought I wanted easy comfort. But breathing beings are more Mushroom Wellington than Easy Mac, and love is a living, learning thing.
We forget this, don’t we? We want lap cats, pick-uppables, cats who will make us laugh but not necessarily in the ways that they personally find funny (let the record show that Nemo finds the attempted annihilation of other cats hilarious, and there’s not a cat alive who doesn’t dissolve into laughter at the sight of a shattered tchotchke). We adopt and adore and open our hearts with expectations we can’t even see through our own egos. We want love on-demand, at our command.
At our worst, our greedy, grief-y hearts are so scrambled by sorrow or stubbornness that we reject what we can’t control. Many a cat is returned to Tabby’s Place for failure to frolic in precisely the expected fashion. The cat who accepted a hug in Suite B goes home and wants nothing more than to burrow under the blanket; the cat who leapt across the lunatic sky turns out to be a tremulous trembler who just wants to read his book about the transmigration of souls. (You would not believe how often this specific event occurs.)
The cat we expected is, in fact, a cat at her own command. We can love her as she is, inexplicable and unpredictable and inextricable from her own strong song, or we can buy a stuffed animal at the grocery store.
We learn this, only to forget, only to foist our blueprints on red-blooded beings over and over again. With friends of all species, we think we want exactly what we want.
But when we get it, we find our arms are still empty.
The stuffed animal is no salve.
The creature we can control does not actually have a pulse, nothing that quickens the quicksilver in our own lonely veins.
And even the very real cat or cousin or comrade we can coax into very real submission is simmering and stirring with a Something More that would be so much stranger and harder and truer and holier, if only we’d take our heavy hand off its back.
Once we do, we may suddenly be slathered in light.
A wise and wonderful light-force friend once shared with me that, in Buddhist thought, there is a concept of the “monkey mind” and the “kitten mind.” The baby monkey clings desperately to its mother, while the kitten permits itself to be carried.
There is, of course, a time to cling, and many friends of many species will permit us to do exactly that. Blessed are the empaths, furred and otherwise, who know when to be exactly what we need them to be, even if it means temporarily stuffing their own starry beings into their purses.
But only temporarily.
Most of the time, we’re asked to live as Love’s Kitten.
Will we insist that everyone behave at our behest, clinging to our clipboards and our spreadsheets and our must-haves until they’re all we have? Or will we let ourselves be carried?
Carried, into the mystery of the other.
Carried, into the ocean of the unexpected.
Carried, into hours and days where equally sovereign sweethearts will hug and hide, advance and retreat, choose to love in ways and whorls that no one has ever loved before, leaving fingerprints of heaven itself?
We can’t have life and control at the same time.
We can have love that leaves us blinkered with awe. It will look nothing like our sketches, but if we keep the pencil light and keep our hearts open, it will be everything it’s meant to be.
Awake. Alive. A miracle.
There will be kittens we can hold for hours and kittens who flap like ravens the instant they leave the ground. There will be cats who become one unit with our laps, and cats who lap up the love that looks like respect for distance. There will be friends whose words sound like they could have crawled out of our own souls, and friends whose very foreignness is their diamond.
And perhaps, in the face of all such candles, a kittenlike attitude of perpetual blissy bafflement is appropriate, maybe even saintly.
We are neither the Architect nor a puppet-master.
Which means we are free to be here for each other and to behold each other and to believe that each other is a world weighted with wonder.
And so to fly.
Pictured in thumbnail: Pippa Hartley, Tabby’s Place alumna, impromptu-adopted at my interview in 2007, forever loved and intensely missed, the most magical, celestial empath who ever trod the earth.