There are teachers everywhere in our lives. Sometimes the teachers are not obvious at first, and sometimes the lessons are hard, but they’re always valuable.
My cats are some of my greatest teachers — they’ve taught me valuable lessons without even trying. Here are some of their biggest lessons:
I seem to need to keep learning this one again and again. If I’m spending too much time in my head (as writers tend to do), my cats are there to pull me out of it. Thinking about something? No way — pay attention to me! And before I know it, I’m out of the morass of (mostly) babble in my mind and I’m playing with or loving my cat.
Feeling blue or out of sorts? Cuddle your cat. Love is the great equalizer. Sometimes it’s hard to love certain humans — we all come with such baggage and our judgments, agendas, and filters can get in the way. But loving a cat can, for some of us, be easier than loving some humans. I believe that cats can teach us how to love so that we actually end up being better at it. Maybe as a result of loving our cats or dogs or pets, we get better at least at dealing with other humans, even if we don’t love everyone unconditionally.
Here’s another thing I keep learning — nothing is permanent, no matter how badly I want it to be. Things begin and things end. Processes change and lives move on. Friendships change, relationships change. And the biggie, of course, is that lives end. We learn this again and again with our pets.
I am watching a friend going through this now. Her black cat has an oral tumor. Her vet gave the cat only a few weeks, but that cat has had four months since diagnosis (without pursuing treatment) and is still interested in food, water, life, and love. It has been so amazing to watch my friend go through this. She’s hugely grateful for the gift of time, and she has moments of both joy and grief. Death is one of the ultimate mysteries, and it feels like we can never quite get our heads around it. But we get to learn about impermanence again and again, by the very fact that we’ll likely outlive our cats.
I used to wonder how it felt that parents could so obviously favor one child over another. I never had children, so I didn’t understand. Then I had cats, and got a whole new perspective on this. Every cat is so different. As with humans, we’re going to be naturally drawn to some personalities more so than others.
The first two cats I adopted had to be adopted as a pair (the previous owner had gone into a nursing home and didn’t want to split up these buddies). Cleo (a short-haired gray cat) sold herself to me completely and hugged me around the neck with her paws. Traumatized Tigger (a beautiful cream-colored cat with ice blue eyes) hid in the back of the cage. I was drawn strongly to Cleo. Strangely, Cleo died very suddenly two weeks after adoption. What a lesson! Tigger eventually blossomed into a wonderfully sweet and sensitive cat who was very bonded to me. But I had to give her time, and get past my own initial filters. Different cats need to be loved and appreciated differently.
Having experienced a bit of sibling favoritism when I was younger, I really really try to not favor one cat over another. I try to give them all equal love and attention, particularly during times of transition, such as a big move or the introduction of a new cat.
What a tough one this can be! The older I get, the more I realize I want control. It’s a good thing to be aware of. I’ve often been confronted with this lesson at the end of life — who’s agenda am I serving; mine or my cats? It can be tricky to discern.
I really believe that whether it’s intentional or not, our cats can help our lives be so wonderful. We can learn about love and care from them. Heartache, too, but this means we care and are invested in the love of our cats. What better teachers could we ask for?
What lessons have your cats taught you — silly, serious, or otherwise? Let us know in the comments!
Read more on what cats can teach you:
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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.