If you’re reading these words, you have endured.
You have endured being born onto a blue-green gazing ball, a world that serves you pie and pain and perplexity at every turn.
You have endured the inability to marry Crinkle Bob. (This is a suffering we share collectively. Support group meets at 7pm every Tuesday.)
You have endured bearing witness to yourself changing.
Today we honor the stalwart and the selfless, the ones who have thrown themselves in harm’s way so the rest of us have the luxury of caring for cats and hugging our families and arguing about whether walruses or wombats are cooler.
Our lives are lush because these veterans loved us across time and space. We tuck plastic poppies behind our ears and say our prayers for the smiling seniors with embroidered hats outside the grocery store, when really we should remember that we are surrounded by sheltering angels who have endured more than we’ll ever imagine.
I’d bet a phalanx of wombats that the average veteran doesn’t worry about the wispy things we do.
But veterans are patient, and veterans are kind. And when veterans are simultaneously cats, they carry us over the trenches of our own troubles, if we’ll let them.
Tabby’s Place, of course, is a sort of Catmerican Legion for veterans of hopeless circumstances. Every new recruit, hours or aeons old, has been to the front line. I am not exaggerating, and I’m not a fan of military metaphors. We are speaking here of real battle, the cosmic grapple between dark and light, the kind of war that leaves souvenirs.
Froggified legs whose walking days are over.
But not dejection. Not these veterans. Not today.
“Today” was the faded photograph Tanner pinned inside his uniform. There was no guarantee he’d get to come home to her, no promise he’d survive.
The war raged, long and lonely. Tanner’s cayenne coat grew dusty, bones jostling to the surface. The purple passion of his heart found no outpost for its love. Bugle boys on the battlefield whispered that he was “semi-feral.” The rations contained not a single slice of cheese, nay, not even “cheese product.” Enemy combatants gnashed their teeth, infecting him with FIV. The sound of the war drums, the silence of his old jazz records, and the sadness of life left him deaf.
Tanner fought battles seen by no one but the saints and angels. That audience was enough. They hung a crown of bronze stars over his golden head.
The warrior’s dreams of Today never tarnished.
Still, Tanner had changed. Gone was the gleaming young cat with the plush gingerbread fur; gone was the healthy hero who could hold the world between strong paws. Tanner was a veteran.
But Today was his sweetheart. Tanner never stopped dreaming of her. Tanner never stopped trusting that she would stay true, and remember him, too.
And like all true loves, Today gloried in her darling, calling him “poppet,” calling him “pumpkin,” calling him “precious,” even though he had changed.
In fact, all the more because he had changed.
And then the day came when Today — dressed up like Tabby’s Place and its patchwork army of peace-loving peculiars — loved Tanner, exactly as he was.
At last, Tanner could love both Tanner and Today. Ever since that first Today together, we’ve been marching Tanner off to peace.
Peace of mind that he’s perfect, as he is.
Peace of mind that the changes and strangeness of life on this heartbroken, hallowed planet have made him richer.
Peace of mind that Tanner would sure love to pin to our chests, a heart-shaped locket of hope that won’t disappoint us if we won’t give up.
Like Tanner, we’ve endured.
Like Tanner, we are veterans.
Like Tanner, we’ve been marked and mottled by the years.
Like Tanner, we can love the Today versions of ourselves.
Not the version with hair to the middle of your back and a standing date with the gym.
Not the version who never knew how much you could ache or love.
Not the unlined, unlived version, pristine in the original packaging.
The Today version. The veteran. The one who knows the way.
So take it from the cat who’s been tanned by time. Take it from the veteran who always trusted that Today would welcome him home with kisses. Today You is wonderful. Today You is a hero.
You forgive more easily. Your musical taste is better. You don’t get zits like headlights on the tip of your nose.
And Today You is far from finished.
Like Tanner, you have so much to look forward to. When Tomorrow shakes hands with Today, passing Tanner from palm to palm, maybe they’ll sign a treaty involving provolone and the affections of one Audrey. (Let the record clearly state that Tanner thinks Audrey is more beautiful than a billion Audrey Hepburns, and he is not wrong.)
Maybe tomorrow will bring Tanner a Congressional Medal of Honor, or, even better, a forever home.
Maybe tomorrow will bring you a marriage proposal from Bob Dylan or the entire plot of a novel fresh-born your head. Or just a really good dish of fried okra with someone you love, or magenta mums on your porch that smile just for you, or a baseball game that makes you remember you’re a child and an elder all at once.
Your love was once a thin pixie, beautiful but weak. It is now one hundred feet tall.
Your courage was once broth. It is now stew, the kind that requires a spork.
Your valor was once an idea. It is now alive, Today, and so are you, with all the crinkles and stars to prove it.
Maybe tomorrow, you and I will finally believe what Tanner and all veterans know: the Today version of ourselves, grizzled and glittering, is always the best version.
Happy Today, veterans.