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The Trackless Mystery of Love

by Lucky Garvin

In the world of kittens, as in all other worlds, there is sorrow and joy, delight and tragedy. Kittens come packaged in an astonishing variety of color: grays and whites, blacks and oranges,  peppered with patches and accents and wisps. They are adorable in their awkward bow-legged galloping, their mock-fighting and their stalking. Their eyes are yellow or green or blue or mix-them-up.

Of our recent charges, “Patch,” an orange tabby kitten, has the record for the sweetest disposition. Abandoned in an alley, Patch came to us with one eye half out of his head. No one is certain why. Black and scabbed over, the eye was grotesque. It was our job as foster-parents to put ointment on that eye four times a day. He came to us on Friday, with surgery to remove the eye set for Monday. On Sunday, Patch’s eye fell out of the socket.  I was at work. You better believe I got a phone call. Sabrina got him to a vet, the eye was fully removed and the socket sewn shut.

Patch Garvin couldn’t have cared less. Now one-eyed, he spends his days an accomplished loafer, sleeping, insisting on being set on our shoulder and rubbed, or just chasing butterflies.

Patch adjusted beautifully to his loss, and turned out to be one of the most endearing kittens of my widening acquaintance. In the morning, Sabrina would come tearing out of the bedroom in simulated horror. “Patch is after me, Gahv!!” I’d come around the corner, and Patch would be up on his hind legs, front legs extended, doing `The Monster Mash.’

For reasons unknown, male orange tabbies are said to possess the warmest personalities of all cats. Patch adopted me. His first night with us, I sat in my chair, he slept atop my shoulder. Every so often he’d reach out and put a paw gently on my mouth. So, my shoulders pinned firmly to the mat, so to speak, I decided we’d keep him. This paw-to-mouth gesture conveys such a trusting intimacy.

When something loves us so much, how can we help but love it in return?

Sometimes we get the cast-off animals too late. A mom (“Spook”) and three babies. Spook was so desperately sick [temperature 106 when we picked her up] she could not tend her youngsters. So we fed them. They were all sneezing and hacking. The two older ones got stronger; but Baby, the runt did not. We gave him fluids, we gave him medicine, we tried to keep him warm. His cry got weaker, he grew cold and began to stare through us. “Oh God, Gahv, he’s not going to make it,” Sabrina lamented. About one AM, before turning in, I went to check on him; no change.

Early the next morning, I felt Sabrina leave the bed. It was too early for her to be getting up; I knew where she was going. I went with her. She knelt down before the covered box which held the small family, and she paused. “I’ll look,” I said. Two kittens were nursing. Mom, now clear-eyed and fever-broken, held her paw protectively, futilely over little Baby who died in the night, too weak of wing for the journey. Sabrina saved three; lost one. Mourning and thanksgiving held hands. Later Spook hopped up on Sabrina’s lap – the first time she’d done that – as if to say, `Thank you for helping my babies when I could not.’

Before I wrap up this piece, a few more comments on mothering. We have two dogs: Onyx and Ginger. Kittens terrify Ginger, but they seem to set Onyx’s head in a puzzle: she wants to mother them, but they sure are strange looking puppies, and she’s noticed they don’t bark all that well.

Sabrina thinks it’s instinct combined with the fact Onyx has never had a litter of her own. Sometimes we take a kitten or two out on the patio. Sabrina and I relax, watch the pond or wait for the hummingbirds, with their nervous agility, to come to call. The kittens explore. But everywhere they go, there’s Onyx, this lumbering black brontosaurus committed to maternity. She gives an affectionate lick that sends them rolling. If you saw a three-foot tongue, wet and fleshy coming at you, would you characterize it as affection or assault? The kittens stare up at her and seem to think: I wanted a Mommy but my heavens!!

We do an experiment. We’re out in the back yard: little Patch, Onyx and Ginger. Sabrina and I walk away from them and call Onyx and Ginger. Ginger comes to us. Onyx stands there and whines; looks from us to Patch and back to us. We call again. She takes three reluctant steps, torn between obedience and instinct. She looks back at Patch. Irrepressible mothering.

  Looking back over the last few months, I am persuaded of this: helping animals is Sabrina’s best destiny, her true passion. She has found what we all seek: to be in love with what we do, for when it’s all said and done, that is the foundation of happiness. More than mere happiness, it engages the full array of her emotions: hope and loss, joy and suffering, each necessary for the other to be. Her entourage follows her through the house attached to her like barnacles to a boat-bottom. Sabrina’s sense of time is lost; the moments no longer tumble by, but are magically suspended, and later there’s a yearning to return to what you were doing and recapture that bliss. That’s the emotional resonance between your soul and your goal. That’s how you know when you’re doing your proper work.

There is a wise prayer: Make me a blessing to someone today. So, to Sabrina’s many babies, she is just that – every day. But blessings are subtle things, often reciprocal. Examined closely, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the giver and the recipient, and in the trackless mystery of Heaven’s mind, there may be no difference at all.

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