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