Sunday, August 7, 2016

Open to Other Ways of Being (or: You Can't Coerce a Cat)

Babs and Sam August 5, 2016--Now Pumpkin and Ruben

Babs, the tuxedo kitty above, ran away yesterday. I'll say more about her story in moment. In some ways, it parallels my own.

It has been eight months since I last wrote in this blog. Over those many weeks, I continued doing what I do: running, working at the university, and trying to help animals and my students as best I am able. However, I also almost broke down. Not because of the things that sustain me, and give back: family, animals, teaching--but rather, because I had spread myself too thin in other areas of my life, namely, work. I allowed other people to get under my skin. I had become anxious, unhappy, my self-esteem dropped. This is somewhat normal for me during the winter months in Iowa--I need vitamin D and sunshine!--but the real issue was my own ego. I took on too much, thinking it was for others. But really, it was for me, for the idea I had of myself as able--and perhaps, more able than others--to fix things, to solve all the problems. I was the "yes" woman. And then I got angry and frustrated when I realized the time and energy I put into these things may not actually yield anything significant, and certainly did not gain me the ego rub I unconsciously sought. Pride is a sin for sure.

It is also a sin in this patriarchial society to be an opinionated woman. I might have gained some respect for the energy and work done, but I was still a woman. Tenured, with two books, many articles, and a third book contract, but I still couldn't speak for myself without getting snide emails from colleagues. I still couldn't love openly and give freely to my students because to do so would be viewed with cynicism. Sadly, I was becoming cynical. I got prickly in everyday interactions, anticipating what others would want from me. But the problem was that I sought approval from the outside--approval that 1) doesn't matter, because it only stokes pride 2)  that I will never be able to gain.

So when I ran away to Utah at the end of the school year in May (or rather, went to Utah on a planned research/vacation trip), I needed that time alone to assess what mattered, where I was safe, where I could be healthy.

Babs did the same thing yesterday. She ran away. We caught Babs in a trap a week ago. She had an injury (from another animal? A piece of wire? Who knows?) under her lip that needed attention. She had fleas and worms. We trapped Babs along with four of her cousins. One of them, little Sam, above, will be adopted out. The others were spayed and neutered (thanks to the TNR services of Cedar Bend Humane Society) and returned to the colony on College Street.

Babs and Sam were playing in the garage, outside of the large cage in which they are safe at night. I opened the garage door without paying attention, and Babs bolted. I should have known better; she had spent the morning meowing by the window, clearly wanting to get outside. I did not listen. I did not pay close attention.

Steve and I spent hours trying to find her. She first ran under our deck; then she ran through the yard into our neighbor's shrubs. I set another trap. I opened tuna. Every now and again, we would hear two or three loud meows--the same meows she had called out from the window. I think she was calling her family.

By 10:30 p.m., still no Babs, though we knew she was nearby. I went to bed hoping that she would get hungry and enter the trap, or that she would seek shelter again in the garage. I purposefully left the door cracked, just in case.

At 3 a.m., I heard Thea bark, and what I thought was the garage door being shut. I got up and went outside to check on the kitties. I saw the door was more open than I had left it, and when I switched on the light, I was thrilled to see Babs resting on top of her cage. I was so glad. She knew where she was safe. She knew where she would get food. She knew.

We had wanted to desperately to catch her-- we intuited from her behavior that she would prefer being free, but we also want to have her spayed once she is big enough. What we didn't anticipate was letting Babs work out for herself what she needed. Babs ran because she wanted out. But once out, she realized she still needed some help. She was smart enough to come back. Animals are smart. Kids are smart (my students often show me how sophisticated, empathetic, and thoughtful they can be). Often, in our pride, in our egotism and self-centeredness, we do not open ourselves to hearing and respecting that these beings can make choices, that they, indeed, do make choices. They respond to us, as we care for them.

We will help Babs, as we try to discern that that is what she wants. We will feed her and get her healthy. And when she is spayed, we will let her be free, back with her family in the colony. I hope that is what she wants. If she starts warming up to us, that plan may change. But we are open to listening to her. You can't coerce a cat. You can't coerce anybody, really. Each of us would run if we were to feel cornered or coerced.

I feel joy every time I release a cat back to his/her home. I also feel joy every time we adopt a kitten into a good home. Each being will be--and what we must do is try to listen to each unique way he or she is. 

I have never been good with authority. I have never liked being told what to do. But I have always wanted to help others. I had to run away to come back to myself. I had to be with nature, feel the openness of the world, the blue of the sky, the orange of the canyons, see the audacity of desert flowers and be with my twin, art, and animals to return to me. Nothing we do should be for pride, for our ego. If I check my ego at the door, I know what I should do. And when I check my ego at the door, I know what I don't need to do. 

Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, May 2016