I keep going back to beasts who can bear the story’s burdens.
As Development Director for an animal sanctuary, I wrote about fragile cats for ten years, bootlegging in sermons on sturdy grace. I was obsessed with the work, for good and for mad. My unkempt, unorthodox congregation clamored for more.
Why would I take away from this to write my own story?
All decade long, it was the only writing I allowed myself, forcibly shoving away anyone audacious enough to suggest I write elsewhere.
But when life exiled me from my expectations, “elsewhere” beckoned like a woodland cottage.
Danger paced the perimeter. Floating on my back in a gravy boat felt gratuitous. Opening the gate and letting all the bleating words rampage the meadow felt irresponsible and too wooly to stop.
Would I have enough words and whirlwinds to commute between cats and my own chaos? Recklessly open, read by none but my mother and the hungry ghosts of the internet, what would this sort of writhing do to the sort of writing I had to do?
It would multiply like feral kittens.
The arithmetic of story obeys no rules.
I find myself more frantic than ever to tell the tale in two languages: the geography of grace that rises to meet my divorced feet and the ache of animals that lift us to our full height.
The more I write here, the more I write there. Yet I keep going back to work, where it’s easier to spell the story in crooked tails.
Here or there, it’s the singular story, the terrifying true reckless secret story of:
You cannot lose the love.
This is radioactive material that none of us really believes. But we are willing to risk contamination to entertain the idea when it’s warm in our laps. We are willing to suspend responsible fear when the undeserving is under ten pounds.
The cats are elegant saboteurs of “merit” and we love this about them. They may bite or cower, dapple the rug in diarrhea, or die when we need them. They arrive missing eyes and legs, manners and shame.
They are not people-pleasers. The word “terrier” comes from “terra” — literally “earth dog” — and all canines know their low station. But cats are airborne egos, able to turn to water, able to laugh at the mudbound, unbound from any idea of earning their worth.
And here we are, juggernauts of joy just because they exist. We bless the broken and marvel at the mean and remind them recklessly that they are unconditionally loved, not “even such as they are,” but precisely because they are such as they are.
My organization focuses on what you might call “Matthew 25 cats,” the hungry and thirsty and sickly and naked and criminal. They are the proving ground for faith by a thousand names.
As we do unto the least of these, so we do unto the Sender of Cats. As we do unto the least of these, so we do unto the source of these ragged receptacles for our love.
As we do unto the least of these, so we hope someone will do unto us.
This is the big story, the secret story, the only story, the incredible story.
This is the story I find myself telling both here and there, but it’s ever so much easier there. It comes naturally to accept the cats, the shameless, selfish, sacred cats. To accept that their place at love’s table is irrevocable. There is nothing they can do to exile themselves from mercy.
It is the height of irresponsibility to love anyone like this, a firebombing of healthy boundaries. But we are gently godlike when it comes to cats, choosing to waive our right to righteous rejection. They cannot lose our love.
They cannot help but become our language for the groans too deep to utter.
And so this is the story we tell each other, the story I tell here and there, the story that is neither human nor feline, the story I need to be true. The more I tell it, the more I need to tell it; hungrier the closer I get to believing it.
I give my coworkers smooth stones, awkwardly painted with the words “you are so incredibly loved!” I post Instagram pictures of — of course — my cats, with captions insisting that the day ahead cannot topple our boat.
I sail the daredevil waves of gravy, needing to believe that this dangerous safety is true.
We cannot lose the love.
I cannot stop ladling it out, sloshing it over species, daring to eyedropper it into my own mouth like an orphan kitten. It is the story under every story I tell, this grace for goats and divorcees and ghosts and all the salty unorthodox dogs of the earth.
It is the hope that keeps us alive and outrageous, which are interchangeable.
It is your story and mine, impossible, irrevocable, inexhaustible.
There is no danger of dilution.
Looking for more great reads? The MockingOwl Roost has plenty!
As Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary, Angela Townsend bears witness to mercy for all beings. Angie has an M.Div. from Princeton Seminary and a B.A. from Vassar College. She has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 32 years, giggles with her mother every morning, and delights in the moon. She lives in lovely Pennsylvania with two shaggy seraphs disguised as cats.