"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Monday, April 5, 2010

Borrowed Time

Festus came from a litter that included two sisters, both of whom still live with me. They'll be 18 this summer. Watching his fading away in the last months has made me very aware that my girls won't be living forever.

Emma, the alpha cat of the universe, is very bonded to me. Her sister, Cooper, is nearly feral despite living in an identical environment.

They're both really healthy. Except for not jumping as well, a loss of interest in hunting mice, and an increased preference for warm laps they don't seem like old cats. Cooper's gotten friendlier. Emma's grown increasingly vocal in her demands for attention. But I know we're on borrowed time.

Eighteen is often the age that kids leave the nest, for the first time anyway. So much happens in the lifetime of those two decades. As a parent (of real children or furry ones) you know going in that you only get a certain amount of time together. Their presence and growth become the hallmarks that form the boundaries for life's changes.

We had just moved into our current home the spring before that litter was born - a move to the country for peace and quiet, dreams of chickens and horses and a garden. All these years later we have lots of peace and quiet. No chickens. No horses. Only flowers.

I still believed that having an abundance of pets (and people in my life for that matter) would reduce the pain of loss when they died or left. A belief that had 19 cats and kittens swarming our home for a short time. I discovered the pain of loss cannot be avoided and also that my husband, who rarely objects to anything I want, has limits.

I hadn't yet met my daughter, whom I gave up for adoption when I was 18. She came into my life two years after our move, has been moving in and out of it ever since.

I hadn't yet met Pat, the counselor who helped me save my life. We met a year after my daughter appeared and is still my greatest teacher.

I was less than a year sober. And have since moved beyond sobriety into recovery into healing - from survival into thriving.

I thought I had it all figured out at 40: a loving, respectable, steadfast husband; a respectable secure career; a life designed to be safe, simple, and yes - immanently respectable. The box of respectability became too confining. I've since discovered that the element of respectability works well with a spirit of adventure. Safety and security are illusion. Change happens no matter how high the walls.

Emma disappeared one summer for over a week. I was sure she was gone, and just as I was about to fall hard into the arms of grief, she marched up the driveway yowling and thin. For a long time after that I lived in fear of another disappearance. Every time we'd go on vacation a part of me held my breath in anticipation of her possible disappearance while we were gone. I was so full of the fear of losing her there was little room for loving her or appreciating her fully.

That's been her biggest gift to me. She's lived long enough that I finally know without doubt I'm going to lose her. Every day with her is a gift of grace that will not be repeated tomorrow. She may still be here tomorrow, and next week, and maybe even next year and the one after that. She's already outlived the statistics that say a housecat's life expectancy is between 9 and 15 fifteen years. There are a number of cats who have lived into their thirties. So there's no predicting.

But each day is its own unique time with her. Because I know that, I make sure each day that I appreciate what is (even when I've had it with her using my lampshade as a scratching post). When she does join Festus wherever cat souls travel to, I will be left knowing I loved her as completely as I could.

Knowing that I'm on borrowed time with her reminds me constantly that all time is borrowed, to be used and experienced as fully as possible in its moment. There's no way to save it or protect it or use it as protection against an uncertain future. For now her purring presence in my arms as I write this is enough.

Top photo, Cooper. Bottom photo, Emma.


Janna Qualman said...

Borrowed time. Isn't that all any of us has?

Deb, your story is so deep and full. Every time I turn around you release another detail or two, and I feel its richness.

Thank you for sharing so much about yourself in life.

And also... my firstborn is an Emma. I can't help but shoot forward in time and wonder about when 18 comes for her...

M said...

I loved this post...and the life lessons that are contained in it.

"I was so full of the fear of losing her there was little room for loving her or appreciating her fully." How often we allow fear to keep us boxed in...from moving forward...from truly living life. I'm glad that you are moving out of that box of fear, and forward with your life.


Wanda said...

My Larry left one day before his 18th birthday. It was bittersweet--yet, I knew that we had loved each other completely. I know that fear that gets in the way of loving. Overcoming it through love is one of the greatest lessons.

patti said...

Deb, what a marvelous post.

Through the story about your feline baby, you captured the tick, tock, of all of our internal clocks. Or should I say eternal clocks???


Midlife Jobhunter said...

"The box of respectability became too confining. I've since discovered that the element of respectability works well with a spirit of adventure."

I love this line - and the entire paragraph. How wise you are.

Our pets do provide such comfort, but most difficult to see them waver. We had a three-legged cat for 20 years. By the time she met her end, she had no teeth, half a tail, and still loved us to no end. A lovely piece you have written here, Deb.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

So true. I'm all too aware how time is just that.

This post was beautiful.

Deb said...

It's nice to see that it's not only my cats that sit on tables:)

Thank you for the reminder of borrowed time. I often wish my life away in an effort to avoid things. Do you think I'll ever get it figured out?

MangoPeanut said...

Thank you for this. It helps me deal with what I have going on with Roody. I especially relate to this:

"I was so full of the fear of losing her there was little room for loving her or appreciating her fully."

scarlethue said...

"Change happens no matter how high the walls."

This is a lesson I've yet to learn and desperately need to.

Thanks for this post, it was beautifully written. My grandparents had a cat live into his early 20s. My Bub (a jack russell mix) is 8 and showing signs of age (arthritis, etc). The passage of time and the world changing around me are two things that I struggle with every day, and watching that manifest itself with Bub has made it so much more deeply felt.

She said...

I could barely read this without sobbing. My Bronte sisters just turned 13, and Emily had surgery last week to remove a malignant tumor from just below her mouth. All I've been thinking about is the "borrowed time" I'm on. Those cats have slept with me for 13 years, and I just want to relish every moment I have left with them. Knowing it isn't forever is almost too much to think about, but it's all that's been on my mind lately. I spent all day on the couch with them yesterday. A L L D A Y! Love you!

She Writes said...

Ohhhhh, sweet thing that she is. This was beautiful. also, I liked the vulnerability of your writing here. Felt like your voice came through more than I have heard it in your writing before.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Oh, for crying out loud, my "reader" missed this, I just had a sense I was missing something, and oh, boy, was I! This is BEAUTIFUL.

Love that I get to explore "enough" with you. Could be a great alternate title to your book. Just saying.


fullsoulahead.com said...

What a pretty cat! 18 years? Wow!

Amber said...

Very true, very wise-- hard to let sink all the way in, for some of us.