There was a day when I was young and naive about what to pray for when it came to asking God how to be a better person. I was a pretty good kid. I didn’t fight with my parents, I didn’t drink or do drugs, I was a good student … on and on. I was still young enough that my sins were pretty minor. The one thing that I did know was a problem was my lack of patience. So, silly me … I prayed for patience. I was only fifteen. This couldn’t take too long to learn, right? (insert hysterical laughter)
As I lay in bed this morning thinking about getting up, three cats clambered over me, up and around, over and back. I laughed. In the last twenty years, some memorable lessons in patience have come from my cats. Imagine that.
Twenty years ago, Max and I were dealing with a terrible mouse problem. After he trapped fourteen in one week, something had to change. Max mentioned that getting a cat might help. Uh … what? I didn’t like cats. At all. Multiple stories from my past reinforced that dislike. My dog, though, just watched the mice eat from his food dish. Useless thing.
Off we went to PetSmart for supplies. I wanted things in place before heading to the humane society the next day. Lo and behold, a rescue was at the store with a number of cats. I approached with great trepidation.
A ginger tabby sat in his kennel – calm as could be. I put my hand in and he just looked at it. He didn’t bat my hand away, hiss, or meow. Nothing. He was perfectly content for me to pick him up, so I did. We walked out with him that night. As soon as we were in the car, he leapt out of my arms and hid under the car seat. Yikes. But we finally got him into the house, where he promptly escaped and hid.
I didn’t see him again for two weeks. After some initial panic that he’d gotten out and run away, a friend told me to watch the food and litter. Yeah. He was there. I promptly named him Howard – Howard Hughes, the millionaire hermit who hid from the world.
One night I went downstairs and Howard was sitting in the bathroom off the kitchen. He didn’t run away. I sat down and talked to him. He watched me. I ran back to the stairs, told Max to lock the dog in the bedroom and come down. The two of us sat on the kitchen floor and waited for Howard. He walked past us a couple of times, then again. I put my hand out and he walked under it, letting me rub his back. We did this for an hour or two in the middle of the night and then he belonged to us. I’d learned to be patient.
Several months later, a friend needed to re-home her cat, Peekaboo. Uhhh, I don’t own cats named Peekaboo. She brought over this big, fat grey cat who was pissed as hell. I promptly renamed him Ichabod – kept a few of the consonants so he’d know his name. We took him to an upstairs bedroom, put litter and food and a bed in there and I sat with him. He wanted nothing to do with me, Howard, Bert (the dachshund) or Max.
Ichabod, Howard & Bert
Every night after work, I’d go into his room and sit with him for forty-five minutes at a minimum. I’d spend time in the morning and then again before going to bed. It took a couple of weeks, but he finally let me pet his back. At the end of two weeks, though, I was done. He needed to figure it out. I put a baby gate in the door so Howard could get in to see him. Ichabod wasn’t leaving though. A couple of weeks later the baby gate came down and Ichabod integrated into the household. I’d learned a lot of patience with that snarly, mean cat. He never got much nicer, but he learned to love me and we got along just fine.
When TB arrived in my life, I realized how much Howard had spoiled me. He was such a good cat. He never did hiss at anyone and never bared his claws to me. He was docile and loving.
Not TB. TB was independent and curious. A true cat. If he didn’t like what I was doing, rather than tell me, he clawed or bit me. My hands were hamburger. I knew he loved me and I took what he had to dish out because we were going to be a family. He broke through the screens on my front porch, insisting on being in the out of doors. I spent many nights absolutely panic-stricken when he came home late. But he always came home. I learned how to be patient and let my independent boy come to me for love. I couldn’t force it. He taught me a lot, but mostly patience. (He’s completely an indoor cat now – not terribly happy about it, but he’s grown older and more patient too. And the clawing and biting is in the past.)
Grey is so easygoing, I haven’t had much to learn with her, but Earl was a different story. When he came into the house, he was so glad to be with Grey, he couldn’t stand it. But he didn’t really want any human affection. He’d been living on his own for an extra three weeks and wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. Earl was always polite. He has never hissed at me or tried to scratch me, but when I picked him up, he went stiff. He still flinches if I try to pat his head. I have no idea why, but he doesn’t want my hand to come near his head. I waited and waited, continuing to pick him up, even if he was stiff and unyielding. I’d snuggle him and love him, rub down his back and up his tail.
Today, two years later, Earl comes to curl up in my arms while I work. He’s the one who lets me rub his tummy. At night, he flops himself over my feet and purr like crazy, until he needs more affection and climbs up to lie on top of me. The other night he let me rub the back of his neck and up onto his head, purring and happy. My patience with him has paid off. He is the most loving cat I’ve ever known. He craves my affection.
I could tell you stories about people who have taught me even more about patience, but often those aren’t my stories to tell. No, it’s these fun stories that come to mind when I’m trying to wake up. Animals are so much more than just companions, they teach us how to live and remind us how to live well.