Lessons from a Cat

I have always loved animals and little kids. They have a purity of spirit that we tend to lose as we go through our years of experience. Connected more closely to the truth of who we are, they express themselves in the most beautiful, the truest ways.

It took me many years to get my first pet, surprising in many ways, given that I thought I was going to be a veterinarian or a wildlife manager when I was young. My dear friend Merlin was that first pet.

Adopted from a shelter as a kitten, Merlin and I had love at first sight, though truly I swear he adopted me rather than the other way around. We had seven years together before he made his transition, somewhat surprisingly at a young age.

Sad? More than I can say, particularly coming amid too many transitions for my loved ones. But this story isn’t about that. I started thinking about the lessons we can learn from our four-legged friends. What draws us to that connection to an animal? I discovered that they could teach us far more than I ever suspected.

Lesson One: Be True to Yourself

Merlin ate when he was hungry, napped when he needed to and played when he was ready. I clearly knew when he wanted to be petted and when I needed to step away.

How often do we humans pay attention to this? We’re really tired…so we eat. We seldom take time to play because we must work. Paying attention to what we need when we need it…what a concept!

Lesson Two: Be True

A little different from the first lesson. There was no doubt that my furball loved his “persons.” There were also other people who came to our home who he would happily hang out with; and still others who made him hide under the bed.

As far as I can tell though, he didn’t contact the cat who hung out by the back door to gossip about the dog down the street. In fact, when we tried to adopt a second older cat, he gave her the benefit of the doubt, until he learned better. (The hissing she did might have been a clue.) But there was no question about their relationship.

We don’t need to like everyone in the world. But how about giving them the benefit of believing the best of them until we have a reason not to?

Lesson Three: Take Time to Play

Merlin and I would play an intense game of tag and hide and seek. He’d grab my leg and run into the other room, and we would proceed to chase each other around the rooms.

Yes, he always won – the whole predator thing, I guess. But there was simple, pure joy in the chase for both of us. No thinking about the laundry, or work, for me. I suspect he wasn’t thinking of them either.

Find your joy in the moment, no matter what the moment. Look for the light in the darkness, be present where you are. Find time to play. Shouldn’t life be about joy?

Lesson Four: Learn to Delegate

When there was a mouse in the house, the furry dude would locate it – scratching at the closet, following it around, pointing it out to us. Once we came to remove the mouse from the premises, his work was done. He went up to nap, never trying to catch it. Evidently, that was our job.

You don’t need to do or be or have everything. Be grateful for what you are, do what fills your soul. It’s okay to ask others for help when you need it.

Lesson Five: Let People Know How You Feel

My family and I took an extended trip and left Merlin in the care of some dear young friends. When we returned, I knew that he was napping upstairs, but I called his name. A ball of brown and black tabby cat came flying down the stairs, meowing, and yelling and rubbing himself against me. That night he slept on top of me, I think to ensure that I wasn’t going to leave again.

Don’t wait to tell people how you feel about them. Let them know you love them and appreciate them. Let them know exactly what they mean to you.

Lesson Six: True Love Has No Happy Ending

True love never ends. Near the end of our days together we sat on the couch, Merlin sitting next to me. As I petted him, and we looked at each other, I told him that it was okay for him to go, that I would love him forever. He looked back at me, and put his paw in my lap, as if he knew exactly what I was saying. I believe deeply in the interconnectedness of all things. But that one surprised even me.

We are souls having a physical experience, not bodies having a spiritual one. The love we share with our spouse, children, friends and our pets knows no time or space; and it never ends.

Lesson Seven: Moving On

It has been said “Don’t cry because it’s over. Be happy that it happened.” Sometimes though, we do have to cry. It is the way of things.

But after the storm passes, there is a rainbow. Though our loved ones who have made their transition are no longer with us physically, they are forever with us, interconnected and linked by love. The greatest gift we can give to them is living a life fully, and joyfully and smiling through the tears.

There are more lessons, certainly, but I think I’m going to go and hug my family right now and see if someone is up for a game of tag.

susan schirl smith
Susan Schirl Smith is a writer, photographer and holistic nurse based in New Hampshire. Her essays have been published in Cognoscenti, Pangyrus, Silver Birch Press and The Journal of Holistic Nursing. Her photography has been featured in Barren Magazine and L’Ephemere Review. Smith’s current manuscript is Desperado, a memoir of her brother. You can follow Susan on her website or Facebook.

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