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If a cat has nine lives, during an existential crisis, does it say, What are lives? And why do they randomly stop and stare into space as if seeing a ghost? My theory is that they’re just trying to burnish their mystique. Freaking us out in that way gives them the upper paw in power struggles.

If the only things that distinguish mankind from other species are self-awareness and opposable thumbs, are panda bears our equals since they have opposable thumbs? I suppose not, since they aren’t self-aware. 

Now, there’s no question my cat and dog were self-aware. They could manipulate me with puppy eyes or cat cuteness. It’s a pity they didn’t have opposable thumbs. It would’ve made opening the treat cabinet a breeze!

We can learn a lot from animals. For example, my cat was right — food, naps and a pat on the head (or a pat on the back) constitutes a cozy life. And my dog was right — going into the backyard, getting some sunshine and being active makes for a healthy mind and body. 

The upside to animals not being as self-aware as we are is that they live in the moment and don’t stress, agonize or feel regret like we do. 

God provides all of us — humans, animals and every other living thing — with the grace to embrace each day for what it is. The past can be too heavy to bear, and the future is still just cargo in transit. Letting go of what you can’t control may the highest form of self-awareness. Why not be present where you are and let God do the heavy lifting?

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.

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.

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?

I lost another friend this week. Her name was Banshee, and she earned the name from birth: Her mother was a stray cat we’d taken in, heavily pregnant, and when her kittens were born (Caesarean, on Mother’s Day), one of them yowled loudly into the face of our vet. With that, Banshee announced herself to the world. And she never stopped. She was a princess from the get-go, demanding attention, treats, toys. But she was also my companion. Most cats have their own agendas; Banshee’s agenda was mine. Wherever I was, she was. Whatever I was doing could only be enhanced (in her mind) by her presence.

All of my cats have been companions to one degree or another. Bella and Gwen liked to sit on my lap while I wrote. My gal pal Smudge always felt the need to use her box (located in the bathroom) whenever I needed to use the facilities. Mr. Beaumont would come running whenever I sang, no matter how off-key. Honkee (who we joked was part velociraptor, due to his scimitar-like claws) would have defended me to the death, had the need ever arisen. I miss them all acutely.

What are we to learn from grief? Maybe that life — all life — is worth something and capable of being mourned. Maybe that God reaches out to us constantly, sometimes in unlikely and furry ways. Or maybe it’s a chance to remind us that, even as we long for the world beyond this one, the physicality of our world, the warmth of a purring body, the texture of fur, are things to savor.

As I walk through this very vibrant — and sometimes dark — Lenten season, I am aware of the shadow of death and the stark contrast it provides to life.

Stand in sunlight,
but do not fear the dark.
There are nameless things there, sure,
but also the shades of things corporeal
and loved: a coat on a hook, a shoe,
a book. Nothing turns to dust. It only
transmutes: evaporation, rainfall, cycle
after cycle washing pure the air.
Holes in hearts are not mended.
Rather, the heart remolds itself,
taking in matter from daffodils, perhaps,
or the smell of a wet dog. It ceases beating,
then resumes. There is no death.

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.

Since we lost our cat Bella two weeks ago, the house seems empty. The irony is, we still have three cats. They are elderly, quiet, less active than they used to be. They are also the last three of a “pride” that once numbered eleven. Going from 11 to three is a dramatic decline. We feel like empty nesters.

Two feelings have arisen in me simultaneously: A desire to adopt more cats plus an equal desire to never adopt again. It is difficult for me to not want to help every stray and needy animal that’s out there. On the other hand, every time we lose one, it hurts dreadfully. I don’t want to hurt again, even though I know I will as three becomes two becomes one becomes zero. Each of our adoptees filled a special space in my heart. They taught me about patience, nurturing, joy and love. As they leave the earth, they take that piece of me with them.

I’ve had to analyze why it is I want to reopen what’s left of my heart to another animal. I think it’s because it’s easier to love animals than to love people. Cats appreciate the smallest luxuries, especially after a life on the streets: a warm bed, plentiful food, a clean box. But people? They’re complicated. Jealous. They come with baggage. It’s harder to please them. It’s harder to show them love. There’s no guarantee that they’ll purr in response to your efforts.

I clearly have a lot of love to give or I wouldn’t have adopted so many animals in my lifetime. What makes it so difficult to transfer that loving from animals to people? Maybe it’s because I understand cats. I can communicate with them. People, not so much, even though we do share a species, language and culture. You’d think it would be the other way round.

And it brings up the following question: Why can’t we accept the simplest acts of love from one another? Why do we look into every gesture, every word, for subtext, motive, hidden agendas? Probably because we’ve been hurt by those things before. If we could give and receive love as easily and freely as animals do, we’d probably be a lot better off. If all it took to restore someone’s good mood was a scratch behind the ears, I’d be doing a lot more scratching. And those good moods would be creating a mountain of good will.

So don’t be put off if some lonely looking woman comes up to you and offers you a sardine or rub under the chin. It’s just me, looking for connections in a simpler, stranger language. Take it as a compliment. Or hand me a kitten. Either way, I’m good.

5lrxnlhfzoy-paul-greenIt’s been said that public speaking is easier if you picture your audience naked. (Oh my! How did Hugh Jackman get into the audience? Crikey! 🙂 Or for the younger crowd, perhaps Ryan Gosling. Hey Girl.)

Writing a story recently, I wasn’t sure if it was a drama with comedic notes or a comedy with dramatic underpinnings. I couldn’t quite place my audience.

I decided it was a lot like life: a comedy with dramatic under…pants. The key is keeping it light and not airing the dirty laundry.

Everybody’s dealing with something just under the surface.

In times like these, it’s more important than ever to focus on the good things in life. I like to picture my audience smiling. That’s why most of my posts are about accentuating the positive.

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I like to grab that hook of hope and hang my hat on it. For me, it’s laughter. Finding the funny in everyday things.

That maniacal look in my KitKat’s eyes as he rolls on the rug as if he finally tracked down his mortal enemy. “Bathroom rug… at last we meet. In a dark corner at the crack of dawn. Prepare to meet thy doom!”

 

20170102_203052The Lyft driver who thought he was going to make my day when he gave me a free sample of…. wrinkle cream! Derived from snails, yet. Some in my sensible shoes might have been offended when given an old lady lotion, but I laughed out loud. “Snails? My word. Well, they’re not at all wrinkly, that’s true. More slimy.”

And for those around you who only seem to complain and kvetch? 

A friend of mine in HR once told me her policy: “If you’re coming to see me just to vent, I’ll give you five minutes. If you want to solve the problem, I’ve got all day.”

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“Commiserate” is a word that tells its own story: let’s come together to share our misery.

What’s the opposite of “commiserate”?

Prayer.

People of faith coming together to request that others be blessed.

It’s like a spiritual standing ovation. Now that’s a story with a happy ending!

20160206_142034-1It’s a lazy Sunday, and I didn’t go anywhere at all today. Kept my pajamas on. Kept my hair in its Bedhead-Blowout configuration. Even kept my “sleep socks” on – the ones so soft and plush that they don’t even fit into shoes. I can only wear them when “lounging.”

Walked into the kitchen because I felt like a sweet snack + a warm cuppa, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.” Opened the refrigerator and had to look past all the food to find the specific treat I wanted, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.”

Walked into the sunroom, saw the light streaming through the bamboo blinds onto the comfy couch, gazed upon the upside-down, snoozing cat, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.”

Walked into the living room, felt the cool air coming from the ducts, looked out at the sweltering summer day, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.”

Maybe I did go somewhere, after all – to the place where my heart resides. Luckily, the commute is only a stone’s throw. I just puttered around, watching old movies, knitting, noshing, and feeling blessed.

Had time to gaze at my navel, and didn’t even give myself a hard time about my muffin top!

Had time to wax philosophical, and didn’t even chide myself that the floor needs waxing!

I thought about nothing and everything, like the idea of kin. The people who just get you in life. For me, it’s writing people. Praying people. Knitting people. Kitten people. Kind-hearted folks with a sense of humor and a sense of purpose.

There was nothing happening at all at my house today, but – for some reason – there was nowhere on Earth I would rather have been. I accomplished nothing at all, except a trail of snack wrappers on the counter, a low-level of energy and a high level of contentment.

No, I didn’t go out at all today, and I didn’t miss a thing. Yep, I stayed in today.

Stayed in grace today.

Stayed in faith today.

Stayed in a positive place today.

It’s true what they say, don’t you think? There really is no place like home.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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