Cat Guru

A few years ago I adopted two tiger kittens that had been living under my friend’s bar with their brothers and mother for the first three months of their lives. They were quite skittish that first year at my house in Umbria, but after I started feeding them wet food every morning we started to become closer. Their names were Buddy, a healthy and well-socialized male, and his much smaller, more traumatized sister Rosie, the runt of the litter. Rosie must have gotten her tail crushed at a certain point early in life–her tail is like a corkscrew. My kids nick-named her “Pig.”

Buddy stuck around the first year, protecting his sister, then started spending more and more time away. They were both fixed, so my best guess was that someone was offering better food, but by now… Buddy has been gone for a year, and Rosie has turned out to be one of the great teachers of my life. Here are three of Rosie’s greatest teachings:

No thanks

Every morning, as I dutifully opened a can of “Gourmet Gold” before splitting it into separate bowls, Buddy would gleefully enter the kitchen, rub against my leg, and proceed to beg. He might even allow himself to be picked up at this point, whereas Rosie had yet to come within 3 yards of me. Buddy had ignored me all day, but he knew how to pick his moment. His excitement was palpable, his cries were sorrowful and pleading.

Rosie, on the other hand, kept her distance. She remained in the hallway, calm and silent. She knew the wet food was coming. She was patient and relaxed.

As soon as they finished, Buddy headed out the door while Rosie sat nearby on the end of my desk as I worked, often remaining for hours.

I laughed as I imagined them talking later in the day, Buddy saying that Rosie should thank him for the morning treat. He might have convinced himself that it was only thanks to him that the wet food came–seeing as how he had insisted so loudly. All the while, Rosie kept silent, knowing that it was because of my love for them that the food arrived every morning. It was Rosie, afterwards, who thanked me; Buddy was long gone.

They were like two parts of me: the ego who “gets and forgets” and the soul, who “gives and forgives.” As I began to change, I began to appreciate the Rosie in me more and more.

Jumpstarts

Those first two years with Rosie were never easy. She was so frightened by me that as soon as I entered the room she would bolt. Only if I was laying on the sofa, or lying in bed – in a way that made me seem smaller (and harmless) – would she even consider entering the room. Even then, the moment I moved she was on Full Alert. She might be asleep in the corner, but I knew that my every move instilled in her great terror. My friend John said that to Rosie, everyone was a serial killer.

So I started doing something I had never done before: I started moving slowly around the house. I had never noticed it before–not even after 50 years–but I tended to go from sitting still to full movement in a heartbeat, especially if the phone rang or the doorbell buzzed. Or an idea came. Or even just if hunger panged. Living with Rosie changed all that.

Though not saying a word, she helped me become conscious of my little jumpstarts. I stated to slow down, and my movements today are now more conscious, more fluid and graceful thanks to her.

And thanks to my efforts, you’ll often find her asleep on my lap these days.

First touch

 “The reward of patience… is patience.”

Before Rosie, I tended to have little patience. Seeing as how she was eating (and shi**ing) in my house for two years now, I thought it was strange not to have even a minimum rapport with her. I could tell she was doing her best; she liked being in the same room as me, but as far away as felinely possible. How long could this go on?

I began slowly trying to get closer to her, low on my hands and knees, moving across the room in semi-darkness. She had a chair she liked to sit on, right next to the wood stove, and sometimes (after a ten-minute crawl) I could get within half a foot of her, only to see her jump up at the last minute. This went on for months. It was obvious that we both desired contact and closeness, but the time wasn’t ready yet.

At this time, I was practicing some meditations and mantras of Ho’oponopono, the magical Hawaiian formula for finding inner peace and forgiveness. They have a practice for trying to heal one’s relationship with their inner child, which involves imagining them as being ignored and frightened, hiding under a table, while you humbly and graciously ask if you can caress them and (eventually) hug them. I saw the connection with Rosie here, the slowness and constancy of my attempts became proof of my willingness to heal these rifts. It reminded me of those love stories where the suitor waits outside the beloved’s house in the rain for 100 days in a row, until the beloved finally remits.

Well, my friends, they say that women are like crossword puzzles: The longer the resistance, the sweeter the surrender. Let’s add “cats” to that list. One fine spring day, having resigned myself to never having a normal relationship with Rosie, I remember an extended right index finger finally touched down on her right front paw and held still there. She looked straight ahead towards the window, not moving a muscle, but at least she didn’t jump up.

In fact, she purred!

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