We can’t all be Santa Claus.
We can’t all be Mr. Rogers.
But each of us can be all the cats believe we can be.
In this season of sweetness and bittersweetness, I find myself wanting to do one thing: more. I see quiet loneliness and I want to heal it; I see astonishing kindness and I want to echo it; I hear not-so-distant melodies of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, and I want to sing.
I see Love and I want to be it.
You know, if you’re the sort of human who reads this blog, what I mean. It is a terrible and a wonderful thing to have a heart that feels. Feeling so much, in so many directions (there are 120 cats at Tabby’s Place alone, after all), is bound to leave you feeling like you just can’t do or be enough.
I suppose it’s a good impulse, our wanting to wrap the whole world in our short arms. At Thanksgiving, even my own, imperfect-yet-adored, politically scattered family found unanimous agreement that we all wanted to be Mr. Rogers and/or Tom Hanks. (OK, except my sweet, retired elementary school music teacher uncle, who inexplicably wanted to be Steven Seagal, which required us to attempt to explain Steven Seagal to the teenagers at the table, which required us to explain the decade that also gifted us Jean-Claude Van Damme and pre-gubernatorial Schwarzenegger. This confused the teenagers further, which required us to pull up our phones to show them pictures of Steven Seagal, which caused them to explode into laughter and to accuse us of definitely making him up for their amusement. But I digress.)
Still, seeing giants of goodness can make us slump our shoulders and wonder if we’re not doing enough — or if we’re even capable of doing enough.
You are not Santa Claus.
I am not St. Teresa of Calcutta.
We are not, however, inadequate.
Fortunately, we have so many wise ones (back to those 120 cats) to sing and shake us back to our senses.
Just when I get to worrying that my little love is a weakly teardrop in a vast ocean of ache, I’m jolted by heroism. In comes a miracleman, humble and unassuming in his humanity, with one request: to adopt a cat who seems sad.
Out walks a wonderwoman, disguised in jeans and splendid normalcy, with not one but two elderly, ornery, not-quite-calendar-material cats.
I see volunteers who make their way, at great personal cost, through aches and pains and physical sufferings that would fell a lesser creature like me, to spend hours pretzelled around cats who need comfort.
I see staff members making time where there is no time to listen to each other, all the way down to the mess and the mud and the unmentionable.
I see valiant humans behind an armada of cat strollers, bundling up our most beatific beasts. Off they go, organized through countless behind-the-scenes hours of toil, for soul-healing jaunts to nursing homes.
I hear promises of prayer said for our sickly cats; I see fervent Facebook sharing of our underappreciated cats; I see love love love, luminous in a littleness that is anything but small.
Perhaps the most moving moment of my week happened when a busy volunteer began arranging blankets right on the other side of my office window. She was clearly occupied with her task, but that was of no concern to Bucca. All Bucca knew was that there was a person on the other side of the window.
A few things to note about Bucca here: Bucca likes me. Bucca loves that vile canned food that with the tiny deformed shrimps. But Bucca’s Very Favorite Thing is people on the other side of the window.
(Ten out of ten volunteers will confirm: if you are anyone other than me and you cross the border into Bucca’s room, she will bite and whack and yell at you in her bawdiest Bea Arthur voice. If you wisely remain on the other side of Bucca’s window, she will love you WITH THE HEAT OF TEN THOUSAND SUNS.)
Bucca began her usual dance — and it is a doozy — rolling and lolling and contorting herself with kicks and purrs and acrobatics that are all the more astounding coming from an 18-year-old cat.
And Busy Volunteer? She burst into laughter — the holy kind, pure and gleeful — and then began rubbing her hands and face against the glass, loving Bucca on Bucca’s batty terms, fully present in the fully ridiculous moment. Bucca was elated; love was victorious; I was the lucky one who got to see it all.
And there is so much I don’t see.
The grandest goodness is under the radar, behind the scenes, off the grid of public glory. Mother Teresa herself urged her admirers to “find your own Calcutta,” and Mr. Rogers promised each of us that it’s us that he likes.
And the cats like us too, just as we are, limited and loving in the nooks and crannies where we find ourselves.
So, no; you can’t be everything to everyone, not this holiday season or ever. Very few of us are called to the kinds of spectacular valor that make for canonization or CNN Hero awards or Time Persons of the Year.
But every one of us is called to the small love that rocks and rules and saves the world, minute by hour by day.
We can all be what the cats know we can be.