What Have Your Cats Taught You This Year?
I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. Almost all the time, they’re setups for failure. Think about it: How many people resolve to work out more, go buy a gym membership, and then stop going after a month? And let’s not even talk about other popular resolutions like losing weight and quitting smoking. I don’t think I know of anyone who made a resolution on Jan. 1 and saw it through as a lifelong commitment.
Instead of making resolutions, I take time on New Year’s Eve to look back over the previous 12 months. When I do that, I inevitably find that I’ve gained some insights that I can take forward into the next year. With that in mind, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from my cats in 2012.
1. Be present
Most people, myself included, are guilty of physically occupying a space while our minds are elsewhere. Cats are masters at being here now, and if we don’t learn that lesson our cats teach us with their very existence, sometimes we have to learn the hard way. When Dahlia got so sick this spring, I made a conscious effort to be fully present with her right until she drew her last breath. As I look back at that time, I realize that if I was capable of being present during that emotionally shattering week, I can certainly be present when times are easier. Not only that, but I owe it to myself to do so.
2. Take lots of naps
Cats don’t have any problem with spending lots of time sleeping in sun puddles and enjoying the warmth and comfort of their surroundings. I, on the other hand, have a really hard time with this. Maybe it’s the soup of Puritan mores and values that permeates New England like coastal fog, but I find it very difficult to feel OK about sitting around and not doing anything “useful.” Nevermind that rest and even just vegging out actually are useful, because the brain needs some down time in order to function optimally. Nevertheless, I've started applying my cats' teachings and allowing myself one day a week where I don’t do anything unless I want to do it -- and it really has made a positive difference in my life.
3. Eat a species-appropriate diet
My cats are remarkably healthy. Even 17-year-old Siouxsie shows no sign of kidney disease or any of the other illnesses that plague elderly cats. Although good genes surely play a role, I know the fact that she and her brother Thomas eat a grain-free diet has a lot to do with their robust health. Of course, I’m not a cat and I’m certainly not an obligate carnivore, but I do know I feel much better if I reduce the amount of carbohydrates I ingest. Humans aren’t designed to eat massive amounts of bread, potatoes and refined white sugar: we’re omnivores, not carbivores, and we need a balanced diet for optimal health. Besides, if I have the money and the will to buy the best possible food for my cats, don’t I deserve to treat myself the same way?
4. It’s OK to cry
I learned pretty early not to cry: I figured nobody would care, or if they did, they'd yell at me before they'd comfort me. It seemed like everyone around me was falling apart and there was no room for me to express those feelings even if I had dared to do so. What that led to was a lot of incomplete grieving and silent tears in the darkness of my own room. This year shook me out of that rut. When the tech brought Kissy’s body to me that awful November afternoon, my silent sniffles and occasional tears quickly turned into a full-on, unself-conscious bawl. Nobody shamed me. The world didn’t explode. People did care. And it changed me. I want to remember that lesson, for Kissy’s sake and for mine.
5. Keep an open heart
My cats, Sinéad and Dahlia, worked diligently over a total of 16 years to heal my heart and help me to rediscover joy. I got a tattoo featuring them in order to honor their lives and the courage and faith they gave me that it would be OK; I had a reason to go on even if I couldn’t see it myself. I still have my moments, but for the most part I make a conscious effort to go through my life with my heart open to the love that’s all around me. I adopted Kissy because I could feel her connection to me, and I don’t regret it for a minute; even the short time we shared strengthened my belief in the importance of an open heart.
Now my heart is calling out again: I’ve met lots of cats doing my weekly volunteer shift at an area shelter, and I had no intention of adopting another cat. But when I looked into those golden-green eyes, I had a shiver-down-to-the-core moment that told me this was a reunion, not a meeting.
What about you? What lessons have you learned from your cats this year? Do you think you’ll take them with you into the next? Please share them -- yes, even the silly ones, because cats are experts at silliness!