Day 3 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.
How can living with a cat be a practice for cultivating sanctuary?
For two years in Boston, I fostered tramatized, abandoned cats. I learned the volumes communicated by a flick of the tail or a meow tone variation, all in hopes of helping the cat build trust again and find new homes. The situation was temporary, and I always rejoiced when one was adopted by loving people, never tempted to adopt myself. My life also felt unsettled, knowing that Boston was not a long-term home.
This past May, Minerva’s* loving family of 5 years asked me if I was interested in adopting as they faced a move across country. I decided it was time and had always known that a cat would find me, rather than me actively looking.
It began rocky…the poor kitty moved 3 times in 6 weeks, and missed her first family. She peed on me, on my couch, and yowled at night for a month.
She prefered hiding behind the toilet or tub to all the lovely window options I offered her. Her behavior brought to mind C.S. Lewis’ observation that we are more willing to stay in unpleasant situations because we “cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Watching her deal with stress, I realized how I often did the same thing, choosing the familiar and safe, even when more pleasant options were offered, and hiding during grief and the chaos of transitions.
Moving into the Cottage relaxed her, and her personality started to resurface. She decided I was an okay human who seemed to know how to give good scratches and decent food.
As I write, Minerva is resting next to me, dozing, yet still vigilant to any untoward movements or sounds. Except for a few hours each day of feline introvert time under the guest bed, she keeps me in sight when I’m at home.
At 9pm, she will meow and look at me expectantly and if I follow her, she will lead me to the bedroom, pointedly reminding me it is time to be more catlike, and less human, and actually go to sleep.
Sometimes I ignore her and she yowls a few times, then curls up and snores at me, until I finally decide it’s time. If I arrive home after 9pm, she is looking out the window, waiting.
Minerva teaches me that sometimes the best options are very basic: take a nap, make sure you’ve eaten, drink water, watch the birds, clean up, be communal, be curious but not careless, take some under-the-bed introvert time, and go to bed at a decent hour.
After 4 months, I believe Min has made me a more relaxed human, more aware of the goodness of simple needs like food and sleep and companionship.
Her little life warms the contemplative cottage.
*Named for Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom, arts, healing, and strategy; and for Prof. Minerva McGonigal.