She scampered jauntily into my life one beautiful, warm day in September.
I couldn’t know at that moment, but I was headed for one wild roller coaster ride. An adventure of the heart that I’d be looking back on nearly four months later, as one of those life-transforming, “what happened to me?” experiences.
I’m writing this on Jan. 6, the day of the Feast of Epiphany. It’s the day my dad was buried – the 12th day of Christmas. The day I contemplate the cycle of life…birth, death, beginnings and endings. And I try to understand where I fit in it all.
Especially this past autumn, when my heart got run over by a little yellow fur ball. She spotted me from across the road, as I walked to my mailbox. I heard the definite meow of a kitten. Uh, oh, I thought, “We don’t need another cat.” I figured it must belong to someone, but when she saw me, I could tell that she was on a mission.
The feeling was that I was the subject of this mission; and she was determined to be here. Something like Clarence, the angel in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” – on a mission to help George Bailey. I named her ZuZu after George Bailey’s little girl.
“ZuZu, my little gingersnap,” George would say, endearingly. I loved that movie; I loved ZuZu. I loved my kitten. She was a wonderful gingersnap color, with a face just as sweet.
When she determined, too, that we’d probably keep her, I took her for the works — check-up, shots, and all. She had some kind of inherent virus, they said, that would probably come back until her immune system got built up.
We kept her in the garage, away from the other cats, for three weeks. Meanwhile, she settled in, loving her new quarters, and never wandering from it. She’d hop into the cozy cardboard box I’d fixed up — with a fuzzy car wash mitt, her favorite (to keep warm) large wool sock, and pillow-soft, multi-colored stuffed ball with jingle bell inside.
The other cats mostly ignored her, as though they knew she was just passing through. Not their usual reception for new cats on the block. So, I was pleased, thinking this would be a harmonious transition. Well, it was, except for me. Each day, I grew a little bit more enamored of this kitten who’d taken up residence, not only in our home, but in my heart.
There was a sweetness about her that seemed out-of-the-ordinary. I’ve known and loved countless cats in my lifetime. Each one is unique. ZuZu, though, had an angelic aspect…a sweetness…that was hard to define. It just was.
The virus cleared, but something was going on that became apparent in a few more weeks. She wasn’t growing like a normal cat, nor enjoying much kitten-ness; and eventually her nervous system gave way. There are so many things a cat can have, as I understand it now. But, just as she was given the green light for a year, things began to go awry. We tried one route of medicine, but that didn’t work. And, I intuitively knew that she was going to leave us.
Somehow, I felt it should be her choice. She wasn’t in pain, and I thought perhaps some miracle might happen to spare this little angel that chose me for this experience. Just as we’d think she’d be gone, she’d perk up, until finally I hoped against hope that she really did have nine lives and would snap out of whatever it was that was taking her down.
I’ll always wonder, “why me?”
A long time ago, when our daughter was a small child, I came across a greeting card that so entranced me, I framed it and hung it on her bedroom wall. Something about the cover picture drew me into it.
The word “Congratulations” floats in white along the top, as if drifting among puffy clouds hovering in a rosy amber sky. A tawny-gold kitten sits in bright green grass on a flower-strewn hilltop in the foreground, gazing across a dreamscape of more hilltops toward that distant horizon, as if contemplating the adventure, somewhere out there, which lies ahead.
It sounds bizarre, but could I have possibly attracted this kitten into my life because I’d subconsciously absorbed that picture in my mind’s eye? Well, it’s fun to think so, since I like to operate on the premise that – not only are all things possible, but that there is a purpose for the way things happen that we may not always understand. I like to think that, because it helps me make sense of things.
Right now, making sense of this doesn’t compute, because I’ve lost my little sidekick. All I have left are memories. Memories…of telling her I love her, listening to a St. Francis (Patron Saint of Animals) meditation day after day, praying for a miracle, holding her, feeding her eventually with a syringe, again. Ironically, she’d loved to be fed with the syringe when she came to us, so that was the easy part.
What was not so easy was saying goodbye. I’d show her the picture; and she’d appear to be looking at it. I’d tell her she had to go toward the light, across the rainbow bridge. I sensed that, in her tiny lioness heart, she wanted to stick around. And, she did, all the way through Christmas and just enough to give the New Year 2012, and me, a good send off.
ZuZu loved to bat acorns around the garage, when she first came. Those were her toys. So, now, I think of her that way — playing with her acorns. And I picture the love that she shared with us as being like an acorn, the heart of a tree, that blossoms and grows, bigger and taller, lovingly spreading its branches.
I recognized the beauty of the light in her; and she, with the grace of St. Francis, seemed to be telling me that it’s time, now, to blossom like the pink flowers on the mountaintop. In her presence, I sensed a doorway. But was I sending her through it, or was she sending me?
She loved to cuddle into the sofa pillow under the leaves of our potted orange tree. At Christmastime, I decorated the tree with miniature blue lights. I’d watch her gaze up at them, wondering what she was seeing…thinking.
I began to wonder if I was having a close encounter with an angel. Maybe I named her right, after all. A beautiful quote I found, by an unknown author, gives the assurance that “when angels visit us, we do not hear the rustle of wings, nor feel the feathery touch of the breast of a dove; but we know their presence by the love they create in our hearts.”
This furry small wonder captivated my life for four amazing months, bringing dazzling sunlight and joy; and, along with that came some surprising revelations to my heart.
“Graduation,” the inside of the greeting says… “sunset of a beautiful past…sunrise of a bright tomorrow. May tomorrow bring you a world of happiness and success.”
If purring counts as happiness, then ZuZu exuded joy. Her constant purring seemed to be a lesson, even in that, of a simple demonstration of love…love no matter what.
Love is the message she brought with her. Move on from the past, toward the light of tomorrow. Allow it to bring you success and happiness. Be patient in all things. Go with the flow, even more…riding the wave to the shore.
I’m sure I’ll always be trying to unravel the mystery of what was happening to me. But, it took on new meaning during Christmas, as we watched the movie about George Bailey and ZuZu. Of course, I was expecting a Clarence-like miracle for this little kitten, peacefully sleeping, safely snuggled in the folds of my leopard fleece robe. I wanted this “wonderful life” to have a happy ending.
Once, during my kitty hospice time, I thought she was revealing a remarkable epiphany: “You’re not sending me to the light,” a voice seemed to say. “I’m sending you to the light.”
ZuZu, my little gingersnap, you’re probably right. You just keep batting me acorns, wherever you are, and I’ll grow them into trees.