There’s a lot to be said for the power of silence, solitude, and a time apart.
But sometimes it’s hard to say the things that silence is teaching us. Far, far better to let someone else sing or purr them into the void where words fall short.
Of the many ways This Inscrutable Year has changed us — and I suspect we’ll be untangling them all for the rest of our lives — one that’s been baffling for me has been the disintegration of my communication skills.
You may immediately know what I mean. Six months and a thousand years ago, it came easily, naturally, to speak our hearts and minds and miscellaneous bits to everyone. We were, if not articulate, at least coherent.
These days, although my brain is as loud and busy as ever, my spoken words are over-scrambled eggs. All the little and large epiphanies and nano-miracles are still happening, because that’s how generous life is, but I’m so out of practice at talking with humans that I struggle to express them verbally and end up yelping “I like cats and mandolins and encyclicals, and Guy Fieri is the mayor of Flavortown, and everything is grace except vegan cheese, and how was your day?”
It’s unsettling. It’s disorienting. It’s identity-shuddering for a writer and a talker and a trader in words.
And yet, I have to believe it’s very good.
Our own words, it turns out, are not ultimate. It’s not up to us to narrate the grand story we’re all living, not even our own little chapters.
For that, we have cats.
Cats have never suffered the agony of bearing untold stories. They are content — astoundingly content, inspirationally content — to simply live each day for itself, without planning pronouncements or struggling to speak what they feel.
They live it.
They are breathing letters.
Spaghetti, that soot-black goofball of a gift with a long, noodley string of a story, is expert at effortless existing. He will tell you his story, but not in words; he will love you and pull laughter out of you and make much of this very moment, all unspoken and shimmering, just by being. His orange collar jingles to tell you he’s trouble, but his giddy soul can’t stop shining.
No words necessary.
Heather, back at Tabby’s Place after a brief foray in a home, has never been a cat of colossal words. While I’m crashing mental cymbals together trying to tell you truths that can’t be spoken, Heather is simply exhaling them, all grey-tapestry fur and furtive purrs, big eyes and burgeoning trust in this late hour. In untranslatable moments, you can rest your head on her soft side and breathe together, feeling your worth and your life and your lungs as a sort of cellular prayer. She tells the story without telling you anything.
In her silence, you’re written back together.
Simple creatures that we are, you and I will probably keep needing feline reminders that it’s more than OK to let our words be few, to ponder things in our hearts and let them pour out how and when and if they will. The words will return as needed; the silence is doing a necessary work, a very 2020 work, even if we never understand it.
So let’s keep letting the cats teach us a language that transcends any alphabet. Our letters will be delivered; our songs will not go unsung.