Unpuzzling the neighborhood

Unpuzzling the neighborhood

We live in puzzling times.

The cold and the cruelty and the chasms between us have never seemed so huge; hugs and grace and generosity of spirit have never seemed so scarce.

Until, that is, we look closer. Nearer. Smaller.

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” – Fred Rogers

I’m not the first or the five hundredth to say that Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Mister Rogers, is the gently prophetic word we desperately need in 2018. My too-many words cannot do justice to the beauty, importance and power of this film and this man. Please see it. You will bawl and love and hope again.

And while you’re waiting for showtime, stop by Tabby’s Place for the same result.

I am not talking about the Tabby’s Place humans. Although I could write tomes about the quiet heroism and colossal kindness of our people; the way the sanctuary so often functions as a church in a mutual chaplaincy of love; the truth is that we also get it spectacularly wrong. We talk about each other and against each other and directly past each other. We are neighbors, friends, fellow beggars, but we forget.

The cats, small and strange and graceful in their imperfections, remind us. And so, I’m talking about the cats.

Puzzle is, by no account, a “perfect” cat. Elderly, impossibly whiny, long laden with lymphoma, he’s a slip of a screamer who wanders the Community Room wailing his wants.

“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” – Fred Rogers

(Yes, of course he is perfect. But you know what I’m driving at.)

Puzzle was improbably adopted many moons ago, only to return, older and crotchetier, when his beloved mom passed away. He has hardly stopped howling for comfort since. Puzzle excels in working every living creature’s last nerve. Even Daniel Striped Tiger and Henrietta Pussycat might need a break from our bawly boy.

So it was entirely ordinary to hear Puzzle pouting his way around the Community Room during our morning meeting today. “Weeow. Weeeeoow. Oooow. Oooow.”

Sounds of pain, or at least painful puzzlement.

We mere mortals would each pet Puzzle as he lamented his way past us, stroking his skinny head. But I’m ashamed to say we’ve all grown so accustomed to his cries that no one thought much of it.

No one but Shifty.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” – Fred Rogers

A grizzled old guy by any account, formerly-feral, totally-toothless Shifty lumbered his way along. At top old-man speed, Shifty snuggled his forehead directly into Puzzle’s, over and over and over again in a big beautiful bonk of love.

Puzzle stopped crying. Mutual headbonking commenced until the slip of a screamer settled down onto a blanket, consoled and content.

For the next ten minutes, Shifty continued checking up on Puzzle, ambling over to sniff his now-sleepy friend. Finally convinced that all was well, Shifty settled into his own slumber.

Loneliness lifted.
Isolation annihilated.
Neighborliness made visible.

“When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.” – Fred Rogers

The wide wild world has many problems, bigger than we can imagine (thank God) or attack on our own. But in the crevices of Community Rooms and neighborhoods from Tabby’s Place to Timbuktu, love is winning.

Look in the small spaces, neighbors and kittens. Love the ones you’ve been given. Love — relentless, rebellious, unquitting love — is the root of everything. And love will save even this world.

1 thought on “Unpuzzling the neighborhood

  1. Wow! Angela, this is beautiful and touching and wonderful! Shifty listened, and heard that Puzzle needed someone – and Shifty responded. How beautiful. A lesson for me, too – sometimes the meows and rubbies are telling of loneliness and isolation and the need for love – and you get much more than you give. Deep enriching thoughts, indeed. Love you, Tabby’s Place!

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