Friday, September 9, 2011
Lessons from a street cat: What my kitten taught me about life in three weeks
Three weeks ago, I adopted a stray kitten – much to my family’s initial chagrin (with the exception of my youngest brother).
I was told we don’t have the capacity to house a kitten in our apartment. I was questioned if I really thought it was possible to turn a dirty, wild, unpredictable street cat into a tame house cat.
I was asked what’s the point, since there are so many other stray animals everywhere.
In the last week, media uproar about a major animal cruelty case in Malaysia raised much dialogue about the same questions. What is the point?
I have thought long and hard, and every time my kitten bugs a family member or knocks down another item from my shelf in his attempts to leave no surface in the house uncharted or I clean up his poop or fork out money for his food, I ask myself what’s the point.
Every single time, I come back to this answer: What's not the point?
I know for a fact that it’s a tough life for a street cat. I know most kittens who aren’t tough enough end up run over by cars or are killed by diseases or get poked to death with umbrellas by mentally-unstable people. Can I just blindly ignore those facts when it is in my power to make a difference?
Not only can I change the life of this street cat, but also, I want to. Not just out of the fact that I've loved animals ever since I was a kid, but also out of a simple desire to show compassion and place value on another living being that might not receive it otherwise. The latter is the same reason I have long been compelled to support the efforts of World Vision by sponsoring a little boy from Thailand.
But there are so many other stray cats and starving children out there, the skeptics point out (as if it isn’t obvious enough already).
What’s the point? What difference can one person like me make?
My response, to quote a line from the famous story by the authors of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series? “Made a difference to that one!”
We can’t do everything, but we can do something. And doing something doesn’t just change life for those we help. It changes life for us.
It gives us perspective – It helps us see that we’re not the center of the universe, we don’t need more stuff or more money to be happy, and in fact, it can actually feel quite good giving some of our stuff and money away.
It gives us connection – I find that the more passionate I get about the causes I support, the more I understand and feel connected to other causes, and, at large, the world around me. Suddenly people surviving an earthquake or a flood on the other side of the world don’t seem so far away, and the little change I can spare doesn’t seem so small, realizing that it could buy a meal. That one meal can be enough to nourish a body for another day, and that one act of kindness enough to nourish a soul for a lifetime.
It helps us grow – It places us right in the middle of a process of growth and development and allows us to participate in change for the better. It keeps us out of being stuck in a rut but rather living in an awareness that things are not permanent and we can do small things that add up to big change. We may only be able to do a small thing, but when we do, we discover that no acts of kindness and mercy are ever small.
So in giving of ourselves we are essentially giving to ourselves, because in the end we get back so much more than we give.
I have witnessed the truth of this in just a few weeks. Three weeks in which Tiger has gone from getting up to mischief trying to explore every nook and cranny of the hour in the middle of the night, to nestling quietly in between the crook of my knees as I sleep with my legs curled up or nuzzling into my neck through most of the night. From waking the whole house with loud, demanding meows for food early in the morning to pouncing on me in bed for an early morning cuddle and then only asking for breakfast.
Read second-hand, those moments probably mean little, but when you're experiencing them for yourself, they become more priceless than all of your time, effort and money invested.
Maybe you're not an animal lover like me. But countless people who have gone on mission trips or taken part in community volunteer efforts for the first time have experienced the same thing - getting so much out of giving just a little. Seeing with your own eyes and feeling with your own hands that change is possible and that you can be a part of it. Watching people (and sometimes, animals) smile, cry, laugh - and smiling, laughing, and crying with them.
This post is not about being an animal lover.
It's about being a human with the capacity to respect, nurture, and celebrate life -
to sense intuitively that something is wrong when life is not being respected, nurtured and celebrated -
and to have the compassion and enthusiasm to do something, no matter how small a thing, to remedy such situations.
You don't have to adopt a cat. But give of yourself in whatever way you can - and I promise, I promise... you will be so much richer for it.