Last November, I had to euthanize my childhood cat of 17 years. Even though I was blessed with having so much quality, loving time with her, I was obviously heartbroken.
In January, I began to take notice of a stray that sometimes lived in our backyard since we moved in about 5 years ago. She was clearly old with matted yellow fur and perpetual purple eye snot that looked like tired eye sacks. Her celery green eyes held untold stories about a life of devastating hardship and survival. We already have 5 cats, so I began to approach her with extra food, which she gladly accepted after warily eyeing my retreat many yards away.
A month or so in, I named her “Helen.” Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this was the moment I began to give her a real identity and care much more deeply for her. It was astonishing how quickly she became a part of our household. She spent all of her time sunning herself in our backyard laying near our other cats, her ribs disappearing, her confidence rising and her eyes, for the first time, filled with hope.
She made me a better person.
It could easily be said that she is merely a cat, but by forcing myself to be patient, to consider a creature I hadn’t previously thought of except in passing, I had pulled myself out of myself and my grief. Being the youngest in my family with a serious health condition, I am used to being nurtured and waited on, and had rarely done so for another being. Learning to nurture has been one of the most important lessons I’ve had to date.
Everyone needs a Helen. Everyone deserves a Helen. The symbiosis of caring for something, in return, widens and deepens one as a human being. One cannot obviously fix all of the world’s problems or even many other creatures, but experiencing the joy of seeing a being flourish by helping in even the smallest way possible is a wonderful feeling.
In March, I found out I was going to be an aunt again. My sister, one of my best friends and all-around favorite people, is having her first baby next month. Her name is Roxana (“Roxie”) and we already love her. As crazy as it sounds, I believe that my wheezy, sleepy old cat friend has helped prepare me for taking care of my niece by igniting patience and kindness within me.
Helen still has an arthritic walk. Her shoulder bones are still sunken from age, and she is still frightened of strangers. Yet every morning, before I have a chance to pour myself a mug of coffee, she is standing outside the door, expecting an enormous breakfast like the diva she has become.
Because she is worth it.