Episode 22: In Which a Cat’s Heart Grew Three Sizes That Day
All week, my friends have been prancing around the hospital with a festive air and a carol on their lips. It is that time of year, but I can’t understand the extent of their merry-making. There’s no snow; it isn’t even cold. It doesn’t look like Christmas. And what do we have to look forward to? Every day is the same; it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I hear them start to sing along to the radio with a song about roasting nuts in a fire and I immediately seek reprieve in my window away from the jollity. But my habitual place of meditation brings me no solace; here, I gaze out into the blue sky, visible through leafless, brown trees that cast no shade on the bare ground, drab under a too-warm sun. Refrains of “Let it snow, let it snow” float through the hospital hallways. Humbug.
I vacate my window ledge in search of anything to relieve my overwhelming sense of disappointment and gloom. On the break room table, there is a pile of plates and baskets and bags filled with treats for my friends, given to them by the people who visit us with their animals. This heavenly collection of sweets grows every day, faster than my friends can eat it all. Nobody ever brings me anything. Maybe I should try to help them through this vast array of confections; why shouldn’t I get a share? The tags always say things like, “For our friends at Mountain Ridge,” and that surely includes me, right? Besides, we wouldn’t want that deliciousness to go to waste. The scent of sugar and spices fills my head; no wonder people have dreams of dancing sugar plums. I carefully select a bag near the edge of the table that looks promising. First a paw to drag it closer. It’s heavy with a plate at the bottom, and wrapped in something shiny and slippery; hard to get a purchase on. I pull and paw, and stretch my neck and finally I can reach it with my teeth. So close to victory… Just one more tug, and…
With rather more clatter than is desirable, the bag falls to the floor. The plate inside bursts into pieces, and so do several of the cookies, all of which erupts from the top of the bag. Before I can decide how to proceed or whether to flee the scene without tasting the debris, one of my friends comes running. I can only imagine how it must look; me, surrounded by an explosion of sugar and crumbs and the shrapnel of the plate, the wreckage of my own selfishness. I want to run; I hate getting scolded. But there is no admonishment, no harsh words of reprimand. Hands on her hips, my caretaker simply shakes her head at me, and another of my companions arrives on the scene. One of them scoops me up to keep me away from the sharp edges of broken ceramic while the other sweeps up the catastrophe. I didn’t mean to make a mess; quite the opposite, in fact. I never intended to make extra work for anyone. What a rotten addition to this miserable yuletide.
With order restored, I slink under the synthetic evergreen by the great window. I sniff a tiny artificial holly berry, and let myself get lost in the twinkle of the tiny lights among the branches. I wander to the front of the building to look at the other tree. My housemates have been rearranging, and there are pillows and throws on the benches, and little frames with nice words on some new shelves. Everything has a softer feel in this room these days, and there is a glow from the tree and the lights strung around the window. The lights on this tree glitter, too, and as I crouch under the sparkling branches, another of our visitors enters with a new basket of baked goodies, which will replace the one I destroyed. I hunker under the tree, feeling a little guilty and also still a little disappointed with how my holiday season is shaping up. I hear my friend tell our visitor that these treats aren’t for me, and they laugh together, their cheer melting away a little of the taciturn haze that has been shrouding my heart.
I creep out from under the tree, and am picked up and held closely. The familiar warmth of affection and companionship makes me squeeze my eyes, and I begin to purr. Such generosity humans show each other, and such a capacity for forgiveness they possess. This humanity in combination with the glow of Christmas trees and the warmth of this place, my home, filled with music and laughter and love, makes me forget about snow. Sometimes life isn’t what we thought it would look like, and sometimes there are broken cookies, but what matters most is looking for the sparkle in our everyday existence, and appreciating love’s embrace. That’s what Christmas is all about.