You can lose the sight.
You can lose the touch.
You can lose what you thought was the entirety of your connection.
But you cannot lose your anam cara.
If you are reading this blog, the odds are near certain that you have lost a cat.
The odds are cento percento that you have loved a cat.
And the odds are all too good that you have loved a cat so intensely, immensely, soul-thrummingly, that his or her passing was The Great Unimaginable. Yet you had to imagine, and endure. There are nights you still wake reaching for the silken stripes that used to brush past your face. There are hours the hurt hurls itself so close to the surface, you can barely breathe.
It may have been five years. Ten. Fifty. Time and loss do a tortured tarantella when it comes to a soulmate.
But the older I get, the more I am convinced that you cannot lose anyone you have loved with your entire being.
You cannot lose your anam cara.
If you’re not familiar with this term, I know you’re familiar with the phenomenon. (I know you pretty frickin’ well at this point, kittens.) But the poet John O’Donohue can explain it far better than your resident dunderhead:
“Anam is the Gaelic word for soul, and cara is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was the ‘soul friend.’ In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. … You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the ‘friend of your soul.’ …
In this love, you are understood as you are, without mask or pretension. … Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. … you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul. …
When your affection is kindled, the world of your intellect takes on a new tenderness and compassion … You look and see and understand differently. Initially, this can be disruptive and awkward, but it gradually refines your sensibility and transforms your way of being in the world. … A friend is a loved one who awakens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within you.“
(Tell me he’s not talking about cats…!)
Here’s the thing: once your wild possibilities have been freed, no fear or sorrow or dread can cram them back into the box. Not even the anticipation of great, howling loss.
We are entirely too familiar with loss at Tabby’s Place. Loss sears and wrenches and wrecks under any circumstances. But the losses we’ve endured, sequences of tsunamis and heartquakes nearly too great to bear, have only mattered because the bonds have mattered. We have known friendships more intense than words dare to capture.
We will never, ever lose them.
It’s been a haunting thing to lose cats across the miles over this pandemic year. Under less infectious circumstances, we would all be at Tabby’s Place together, tumbling into a room and into each other’s arms when the time came to say goodbye to one of our greats (and they are all greats). But in the airy, socially-but-not-spiritually distanced climate of 2020-and-then-some, we haven’t been able to say goodbye in person. And so, it was only through prayer and tears and ineffable affection that I could be with, say, Impy, as she crossed the veil.
Impy, all 19ish years of her wrapped in a sooty pouch of a cat. Impy, ferocious on arrival back in 2011 (!), timid, then trusting, then playful, always miracle. Impy, adored by Brother George, her own anam cara.
Impy, lost but not lost; gone but not gone; reunited with the great embrace that holds us all.
We cannot lose for good.
We will all be back together again, for good.
In the meantime, we the living are tasked with a great good.
If we have known an anam cara in this life, we’ve been given a calling.
We must love with strength and courage.
We must heal other hearts.
We must give ourselves with abandon, unafraid, unalone, convinced that we and our friends and enemies are held in one bright bundle of undying life.
We must remind them — all of them — that they are beloved.
We cannot lose our anam cara. We must become the anam cara to the world.
The cats are counting on us.