Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sustainable Kindness

One of the three cats I'm housesitting is pathologically skittish. I've stayed in this house four times over this past year and she's never let me touch her. In fact, she doesn't even come up from Kittyland in the basement where, I presume, she feels safe from dogs and humans. I know dedicated cat lovers who would camp in the basement until this freaky kitty fell in love with them, but I am not one of them.
My days of wooing the wounded are over.

This cat's early history is unknown, but she sure acts like someone was mean to her when she was young. Unkindnesses have enormous staying power. I have sympathy with creatures who suffer from memories of meanness; but I'm wary of them too. Thirty-some years of sitting in the basement with my frightened mother kinda used up my energy for rescue missions.

So, what to do?
What I did with the basement cat was not much:
Every time I went to feed her, I said something nice to her and I moved slowly. She ran away every time, but I kept doing it because it's what I could do. I didn't expect anything to change, I didn't even think about it.

A few days ago, she didn't run away. A couple days ago, she let me pet her and immediately started purring. I was amazed. I don't expect her to join me on the couch, like the other two cats, but I enjoy her freaky friendliness just as much. (I don't need more cat hair on my clothes anyway.)

I came up with a name for this exchange: sustainable kindness.

Generally speaking, I feel compassion in life. But the trick for me has been and is to find a level of kindness that I can maintain. (I mean "kindness" as an action, here, not a feeling.)

Everybody can sustain different levels of kindness. I know some people who are like rain forests, constantly pumping out the oxygen of kindness. You just want to stand next to these people and breathe.
Other people show up for the dramatic stuff. They're like the plants that lie dormant in the Sahara and bloom once every ten years when it rains.

I see myself more like what you get if you don't mow your lawn for a few years--an ecosystem of scruffy plants that can sustain themselves on the basics. What they offer is not dramatic jungle rescue stuff (bark that cures cancer!), and they don't transform the desert into a carpet of purple.
I'm not out to save anyone--pretty cynical about that, actually--but I'll do to hold the soil in place. Pretty important, that.


poodletail said...

"Sustainable kindness" sounds doable. Thanks, Fresca.

deanna said...

My parents-in-law had a kitty that, if she ever came near enough while you sat watching TV or something, would only let your feet touch her. She was quite skittish but could sometimes handle feet.

I don't believe I can save anyone, either. Am no longer out to do it for God, or even to make the circumstances "just right" so God can do it for me. But I'm not seeing that as cynicism, usually, because sometimes something happens to people, a softening inside, and if I happen to be there to witness that, cool. It doesn't always happen, sometimes there's only grief or obscurity, but like with the kitty cat you're sharing space with, there are surprises.

momo said...

My sister has a rescue cat, that was abused, and for months never showed herself during the day.She lived under the bed and behind furniture. It took a long long time, but now she comes out for the family and interacts with them, even hangs out in bed with my sister. But I have only seen her once, for about 2 seconds, in all the times I've visited her home, including sleeping there for weeks at a time.
How cool that the cat trusts you now! I should lend you the memoir by Marge Piercy called Sleeping With Cats.

fresca said...

"Doable"--that's the concept I was going for, Poodletail, yes:
"Can I do this, ...and can I *keep on* doing this?"

Good point, Deanna--it's not really "cynicism" to think we can't save each other---I KNOW we can help each other, sometimes, maybe, and that's good enough.

Momo: Rescue cat! I liked Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time" in... 1977 was it? and haven't read anything by her since then--would like to try the cat one.