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Just over a week ago, we bought a new toy for our seven-month-old kitten, Pugsley — a plastic butterfly attached by a wire to a wand. It fluttered, at least at first, rather convincingly, spurring Pugsley to terrific leaps and epic pounces. He gloried in snatching it away from me and parading his prey proudly through the house, wand dragging forlornly behind him. The toy today looks nothing like it did when it was new. It is chewed and bent and bedraggled beyond recognition. The wings have been mended with duct tape. It resembles a crumpled leaf more than an insect. But Pugsley still loves it.

Perhaps the butterfly makes a good comparison for our souls. They are tattered, sure, but God still loves them ardently. And all that wear and tear? Maybe it’s a good thing. To end our lives with a soul beaten and crushed by years and years of extreme love; by good, hard use in working for a better world — what could be better? Sounds like a goal to me.

Take me as I am, Lord, in ill repair.
Mend what you can, moving your hands lightly
over me like the sun that dapples the floor
where the cat shifts and rolls and purrs.
The worst bits can remain; I will wear them
as badges, each rip a reminder of how hard
I loved, how frantically I held to hope.
Though I am ragged, you regard me
as rare and precious as a ruby.
I am yours, despite my ravages,
whole and healed in your eyes.

brown and white short coated dog on white ceramic floor tiles
Picture of a door that is slightly ajar, open enough to see a sweet, brown puppy

Is nothing sacred? I thought, as they head-butted their way through the bathroom door.

Early on, it was my puppy, all floppy ears and fluffy tail. She’d used her considerable nose to push her way through the door, which had been slightly ajar. What’s doing? she seemed to say, with a tilt of her fuzzy head. With that, she sat down and took a nap.

Then it was my toddler, all cherub cheeks, binky and blanket in tow. He’d barge in like a mini-caveman and sit on the floor by the “throne.” Want some company? he seemed to ask. With that, he’d lay on the floor with his blankie and take a nap.

Finally, it was my cat, all wild whiskers and stealthy feet. He looked like a tiny, tuxedoed man, with dark pants tucked into white tube socks. He seemed to say, Are you aware that my food bowl is only 99% full? With that, he’d put his head down on the bathroom rug and take a nap.

“This used to be single occupancy,” I’d say to my audience, all of whom would just look at me, bemused.

I realized some things are sacred. These moments. The slow pace of time. The invasion of space. The crumbs and legos and dog toys strewn around the living room. Those moments were golden, although at the time, it didn’t feel like it. I often felt as if there were things coming at me from all sides and I never had a moment to myself.

We’ve all been through a lot lately, with COVID fatigue, political clashes, and the general sense of distrust that has set in.

It’s easy to slam the door, to shut everything bad out, but sometimes, when you leave the door ajar, good things come toddling in.

What is it about dogs and cats that we find so cute? The fluffy face? The wild whiskers? The twirly tail? Some of the things my pets used to do would be annoying if done by people.

When my dog, Sheena, wanted attention, she’d fall onto her side on the carpet, tail thudding against the shag. It was my cue that she wanted me to pat her. Being part Border collie, when she wanted noshes, she’d herd us into the kitchen by gently nudging us behind the knees. “Leftover ham patrol,” her body language would say. “Let’s keep it moving.”

If Bill from accounting nudged us all into the break room so we could share our lunch with him (“Is this hummus for anyone?”), it wouldn’t be as sweet!

Now, my cat, KitKat, had been a stray, so he had to get used to our outrageous ways: staying inside the house all night; paying no attention to random dust bunnies he’d capture at 4 AM while running with abandon into our rooms; and not being aware that his bowl was only half-full, when ‘full” is the only acceptable state of a cat’s bowl.

If a person showed up at your house at 4 AM demanding food and running wildly (“Who’s up? Let’s jog!), that would be a job for the local constable!

Don’t we all speak without words in our own way? The lady behind you in line as you scan your groceries, tapping her foot, arms folded. You know she’s in a hurry. The man with a crying infant rushing through the store, looking for teething rings. He’s clearly under stress. 

If only we could be as patient with people as we are with our pets! It’s not always easy to be tolerant of others, but kindness is key.

This thought occurred to me twice this week: I wonder if I should just throw it out and start over

The first time was when I looked at the plant the vet had sent me when my cat passed away last year. I really like the plant, but sometimes when I look at it, I remember it’s only here because my cat isn’t here anymore. 

Looking at the leaves, now brown around the edges, my brain reminds me: Don’t you have a black thumb?  I really don’t, but that’s what I used to think.

The second time I thought about throwing things away en masse was when I was looking for a notepad and couldn’t find it under all the expired coupons and old receipts in the junk drawer.

Luckily, I realized I shouldn’t toss anything until it had been sorted. Put the things I need in there and throw away or find new homes for the rest of the stuff. Keep the letter opener, tape, and pens. Discard the keys to door locks we don’t even have anymore, pile of pennies, and bent paper clips.

The truth is, the plant just needed pruning. The drawer just needed organizing. Once it was re-organized, I re-named it: the Utility Drawer. There’s not one bit of junk in there anymore. Once I re-framed the way I see that plant, it’s actually a tribute to a sweet creature we’ll always remember fondly. I re-named it: the Blessing Blossom.

Sometimes it just takes a second look to see things in a different light.

We lost our boy. Jaspurr was nineteen — that’s a long time to know a person, much less a cat (which is what Jassy was). His name (pronounced Jasper) stemmed from his loud and enthusiastic motor. He was a lover, a cuddler, a lap kitty. He was, as our dear pet sitter described him (and like Frankie whom I wrote about last week), the matriarch of the family: It was because of Jaspurr’s loving instincts that we were able to have eleven cats in our home at one time. He took care of everybody. Now he is gone, along with the rest of his adopted kin. He was, as my mother would say, the last of the Mohicans.

Sometimes terrible doubts grasp me: What if there is no heaven? It’s not fear for myself that motivates me — the idea of oblivion is terrifying, of course, but I don’t mind so much for myself as for Jaspurr and our other lost pets. Surely there must be a forever place for him? He did nothing but love with his whole heart every day of his life.

I find myself arguing transitive qualities, like a proof in geometry: If I love Jaspurr and God loves me, then…. But it’s useless trying to wrap my brain around it. Jaspurr was good, and if good survives beyond this life, then surely he does, too.

There is only one way to deal with this grief and it is to walk through it. I have to imagine Jaspurr in paradise, a paradise he understands, filled with dishes of cereal milk and all his friends. Here’s a haiku to celebrate:

A pause in heaven —
gentle tiger-striped rumblings —
a cat has come home.

Faithful readers of our humble bloggie know that I lost my pet partner, KitKat, recently, so forgive me as I ramble on with stories about him for the next few posts. He meant so much to me and my son, and I realized today he was not just a cat. He was a counselor.

My son has dealt with exhaustion due to a medical condition his whole life. It’s affected his quality of life immensely, and, as a mother, it’s pained me that I can’t fix it for him.

One morning, I couldn’t wake up Cole, so I cried for a moment in the kitchen. My cat came into the room. “I don’t know how to help him. He’s not sleeping well or feeling good. I don’t know how to help him live well,” I said to my cat as if he understood.

KitKat came over to me, bumped against my leg and stayed there, waiting.

Pet me, he was saying. You feel good when you pet me. So if you feel good, you’ll be in a better mood. Let go of what you can’t solve now.

Still tightly clenched, I went over to the couch in the living room and he came to sit near me. As I patted his furry head, he purred. The tension was dissipating, and even though I still didn’t have a solution to this fatigue that never went away, I felt my shoulders start to relax.

You can’t reach out and grab hold of life with your hands clenched. Even if you’ve been running in circles for the whole week, find a way to have a day of rest. Lay your burden down and be at peace. If you can’t solve the problem, resolve the energy. You’ll find that things will look brighter tomorrow.

Note: I know there are many people out there truly suffering this Thanksgiving — this post is not for you. A change of perspective won’t mitigate your very real grief. Please know that the prayers and empathy of many, many people are with you this holiday season. Take care of yourselves!

Blessing myopia: The inability to see all the marvelous gifts in our lives because we are too focused on negative things that occlude our vision. I’ve certainly been guilty of this lack of awareness. Maybe you have, too? This Thanksgiving, let’s shift our focus a bit.

There’s lint in my pockets
but no holes, and my boots
(battered, worn) will last
another season. If I cut the frayed bits
off my jacket, no one will be the wiser.
I am fed, filled. I sink into bed
(the mattress little more than
dust mites tightly holding tentacles)
and sleep warm and well.
When I am cold, the cat comes
to sit; no blanket could be better.
There is sun somewhere,
even if I can’t see it.
It will rise and set predictably.
The clock of my life will tick.
The sound will fill the hollow places,
joy will change the plain days
into something rather lovely.
Ordinary life will stop my breath
with surprise, and daily my heart
will croon.

The way I’ve come to look at life is that the the sun is always shining somewhere. This approach helps me through the darker days. Even when it rains, I know the flowers are getting nourished, so there’s always a silver lining.

My son and I had to say farewell to our KitKat this week, so our hearts are heavy. The bright side is, he was here. He was loved. He knew he was loved. Kit had been a stray who found a way to trust a kindly lady who really doesn’t trust easily herself. He made himself at home with us, entertaining us with his 3 AM showing of “Stealth NinjaCat Tears Down Hall, Jumps Onto Bed and Sticks the Landing.”

He’d play mediator when he’d see me walk into my son’s room, remembering those mornings when Cole was in school and I had to raise my voice to wake him up. Everything okay here? KitKat would convey, bumping against my legs.

He’d speak, using the geography of various squares in the house like a Meow Map. If he sat on the bathroom rug, he was saying, Who’s up for a back scratching session? 

If he sat on the small washcloth I’d thrown onto the floor to soothe my aching feet (like John McClane in Die Hard, I’d make “fists with my toes”), he was saying, I’m here to comfort you, but also, you’ve put a square on the floor. You must realize all your base are belong to me. It was only six inches across, so my feet and his whole body would be co-existing on that tiny fabric. I have to believe he knew how much it would amuse me.

These little life forms are really a series of small hinges holding the whole structure of the world together, if you think about it. Micro-bursts of blessings that keep us going. We’re going to miss KitKat, but luckily, I’m one of those people who write blog posts about their pets, so I can always look back at those stories and smile.  Just as I wrote about my beloved dog, Sheena, when I lost her, beautiful times are the ones I’ll remember.

I woke this morning, as I do every morning, with a sense of urgency — ready to rush into my day. Turns out, however, that today was different. Today, my 16-year-old cat became a kitten again.

When Steven was a baby (he came to us, wild and starving, barely old enough to have his eyes open), he loved to sleep on my stomach, to feel me breathing. But I had work to do. So I donned an apron with a commodious front pocket, slipped him into the pocket, and went about my day, a human kangaroo.

Steven is dying of cancer. (Intrepid readers will remember we just lost Banshee last month. Such is life with a houseful of senior citizen animals.) Just yesterday he was morose and miserable, shying away from our petting hands. This morning, however, he woke me by squirming into my arms and purring up a storm. He wanted to sleep next to me again. So, despite the work of the day ahead, I did as God was clearly calling me to do: I spent an extra half-hour cuddling with my dying kitty.

Sometimes we are called to do God’s work in the world. And sometimes, we are called to stay in bed with a warm, soft orange cat. All callings are sacred, no matter how small. Do today what you are called to do. The dishes can wait. Phone calls can wait. But there will never be another chance to love someone at this time and in this place.

Sort of sounds like a prayer, doesn’t it?

Warning: What follows may not be acceptable to sensitive readers. But that’s life.

When you are the caretaker of more than one cat, you remain in a constant state of new motherhood — that is, you have to deal with certain “outputs” on a regular basis. To put it bluntly, there’s a lot of crap involved. And urine. And vomit. Today has been one of those days. Our three elderly felines have left behind them a rash of “land mines” that I am obliged to clean up. Honestly, they were less trouble when they were kittens.

But that’s the way life goes. Unless you are so wealthy as to be insulated entirely from humanity, you probably deal with chores that you don’t care much for. There is a beautiful little children’s book in which a school janitor explains to a child why she cleans toilets by hand: It is to force herself to become used to saying small “yeses” in preparation for the “big yes” that will come at the end of her life. I often think about this character as I scoop and sanitize. By forcing myself to deal with what my cats can’t control, I get experience in dealing with what I can’t control. And that’s humbling.

We’ve had a front row seat this week to the devastation of things we can’t control, like wildfires on the west coast and hurricanes down south. It’s brutal and ugly and heartbreaking. Thousands of people are being forced to say “yes” to things they aren’t ready for. Will it make them better people? Maybe not.

But it is a reminder that we are not the authors of our own lives. We don’t get to write our own endings. Every day we must deal with a certain level of…crap. Some days more than others.

How do we get through it? For me, it all comes down to a higher power. I can’t imagine how people face catastrophes without faith. I’m not sure I could get up in the morning without it. The “faith tape” in my head goes like this: You may not understand it, you may not be happy about it, you may be struck low, but there is always someone with you who longs to make it better. And that is enough to keep me going.

The best part of my faith life? Sharing it with others. Maybe you can’t quite get to the “yes” just yet. That’s okay. I can help. Lots of people can. We are, after all, God’s hands and feet on earth. You are allowed to let someone else help with your problems once in a while. You have only to ask.

Got too much crap in your life? Take a deep breath and remember Jesus’ “big yes” on our behalf. Or give me a call. I’ve got experience with crap.

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