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What My Little Darlings Taught Me

by Susan P. Blevins


When my mother was expecting me, after WWII ended in 1945, she and my father really wanted their offspring to love two things in life:  cats and classical music.  To this end, every afternoon during her pregnancy, my mother took a nap with her feet up on an ottoman, their cat, Blackie,  stretched out over her inexorably expanding belly, listening to classical music.  It worked!  Both classical music and cats have figured large in my life of seventy-four years on this earth.

That early in utero exposure to cats apparently enabled me to bond easily with felines, to the degree that today, some friends call me a ‘cat whisperer’.  Other, less complimentary observers, call me ‘the cat lady’.  My deep connection to cats grew when I was a child, and after treating my first cat as a living doll and dressing her up in my doll’s clothes when I was just small, when I was a bit older, and experiencing the perceived unfairness of life, I would weep into her furry side and confide my young distress to her feline wisdom.  She would always comfort me by licking away my tears.

I discovered something else important very early on:  the more you give to a feline, the more it gives back.  Many people say cats are stand-offish, aloof, selfish, and I most heartily disagree.  If that is their experience, it is because they have not offered love and companionship to them.  Cats are incredibly smart and intuitive, and are an excellent judge of character.  And they love company, being spoken to, and listened to.  I have always had long conversations with my cats.  Of course, if you treat them just as cats, and do not treat them with due respect as beings, then they will not respect you, and will not waste their time loving you as you might wish.

One thing I have always noticed in particular is how tolerant and forgiving they are.  During my lifetime with over fifteen cats, periodically I have had to give them medications, by mouth or by injection, administer eye drops, take their temperature, clean their ears, trim their nails etc., and although they put up a bit of resistance to start with, they always settle down and let me do what needs to be done, simply because they trust me.  And when the ordeal is over, it’s as though it had never happened: no hard feelings and no going off and hiding in a huff.  It also happens occasionally that I have trodden on one of the cats, causing big shrieks and squeals from both of us, and then instant apologies on all-fours on my part and forgiveness generously bestowed on the cat’s part.

Along with their forgiveness, is their loyalty.  Many times they have preferred to come to me for love rather than eat their food, and they all come to me when I call them by their particular name.  They are companions par excellence, demonstrating, dare I say, dog-like characteristics.  For sure this has taught me the importance of seeing someone, and not just looking at them.  People need to be seen and acknowledged, just as much as the cats do, though people are often less clear in expressing this need.

Over the years my beloved cats have taught me to show the same generosity of spirit to two-legged beings.  They have helped me to be tolerant, to forgive when necessary, including forgiving myself.  Gratitude is another characteristic they display abundantly.  Having taken in so many cats off the street, or from shelters, they know when they have found security and love, and they show their gratitude in so many ways.  They have taught me to be grateful for the little things in life as well as the big things, like running water, a car that works, electricity, all things we tend to take for granted.  But perhaps especially they have taught me to be grateful for the love that friends and family have shown me, and continue to show me, which we sometimes take for granted.

Most of all, though, I guess they have shown me how to open my heart fearlessly to other people, and to give of myself without worrying about its reception.  They’ve taught me to love prodigally, and also to view the world from their eyes.  They make me stop and play with them, and teach me the importance of fun in my life, sharing laughter at our mutual antics, teaching me not to be afraid of acting silly and making a fool of myself.  A play session with my cats is just as valuable, if not more so, as a session with a therapist!

Each time one of them dies, my heart breaks and I think I’ll never love another kitty again, but then again and again there is a mutual falling in love, and my broken heart mends itself, each time growing a little bit bigger, a little bit more inclusive, a little bit more certain that love is the only thing that matters in life, and that it never dies.  I am quite certain that when I die I shall be reunited not only with my beloved cats who graced me with their presence during my life, but also with all the animals for whom I have prayed when I have seen them dead along the highway. 

So the two biggest lessons I’ve learned from my cats are to love generously, and to lose any fear of death.  I know I shall be far too busy falling to my knees embracing all of them after I die, to worry about the fact that I am dead!

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