I recently acquired a furry foster friend. (To protect her delicate feline privacy, let’s call her Miss L.) The circumstances were sad: she came to me after the death of the human friend with whom she lived. But the joy she’s brought to my cozy urban home is inestimable — and along the way, she’s taught me an awful lot.
What have I learned from this little gray ball of fuzz? Well…
- Patience is a virtue…and a terrific strategy.
Miss L. has the patience of a saint. Perhaps it’s because she knows she’s going to get what she wants eventually, so she sticks gracefully to her guns until she does. Take, for example, this regularly practiced routine:
The cat sidles over to the treat dish by the coffee table, sits down next to it, and affects nonchalance.
If nothing happens, she looks pointedly at said dish for a few seconds.
Then she looks pointedly at me.
In the absence of progress, she shifts her weight and settles herself more comfortably in her chosen spot.
She then continues to alternate between staring impassively ahead, eyeing the dish, and gazing at the inept human who’s failing to satisfy her.
This can go on for quite some time — and not a single meow will be heard through the whole charade. Yet, somehow, without whining or pining, Miss L. becomes irresistible. Her patience itself seems a marvel deserving of reward. So the treat box is finally opened, and the bits of dried chicken that my little companion finds so tantalizing are crumbled into the empty dish.
It’s only then that she shows her full hand. Her fuzzy head pushes my fingers out of her way, and she settles down for a chow.
Lesson: patience really can pay off. Especially if you’re cute.
2. Silence really can be golden.
Miss L. can speak perfectly well; most of the time, she just chooses not to. This gives her vocal pronouncements that much more impact.
She frequently practices what can only be called a silent meow: looking intently into my eyes, she simply opens and closes her mouth. This manages to be simultaneously endearing and frustrating: she’s totally adorable, but I have no idea what she’s trying to say. Generally I just agree, which seems to satisfy her.
The next level up is a tiny squeak that could pass for a meow if you knew it came from a cat, but which might cause a mouse to do a double take. This is generally the sound she makes the first few times she attempts to wake me in the morning. I suppose it’s the feline equivalent of a whisper.
Since these subtle vocalizations are her default mode of expression, when Miss L. actually speaks, one cannot but listen.
Every so often she stands outside the bathroom door and yowls. For some reason I’m usually in the kitchen when this happens, and inevitably I go running into the main room…to find her looking placidly at me as though nothing has happened. But since the only other times she yowls like that are when she’s a) in her carrier or b) about to throw up, I always feel compelled to investigate. Whether she’s howling for a reason or just at some invisible moon, the human in the house is duly summoned.
At other times, she does what our late friend called “screaming” — which is basically meowing at the level of an ordinary cat. “She positively screamed at me this morning!” our friend would say. Now I know what she meant. This vocal gesture typically means “give me attention” — and due to its contrast with the usual mimes and whispers, that’s exactly what I feel compelled to do.
I think Miss L. understands what few humans ever do:
If you make a lot of noise, no one will listen. If you break silence with clear speech, they’ll be all ears.
3. Always get a good night’s sleep (and a good day’s sleep as well).
Like most cats, Miss L. appreciates a good nap. And though I’ve never been much of a napper myself, the more I observe her, the more I hanker after the kind of life in which the toughest decisions of my day are where I should take my morning, afternoon, evening, and nighttime snoozes.
If I’m sitting on the couch in the morning, Miss L. will climb up and take her morning nap next to me.
If I’m working at my desk, she’ll lie down on the floor beside it.
Her afternoon nap is typically taken on the bedroom chair. If I disturb that ritual, she stays still and pretends I don’t exist until I leave her alone.
Lately she’s taken to napping on the floor of the bathroom…possibly because it’s the warmest place in the apartment. But she looks affronted whenever I enter, and usually flees.
In the early evening, she will frequently nap on the bed. The exact location is entirely a matter of whim, but if there’s a black shirt around, she will most certainly end up on top of it.
At night, she typically curls up at the end of the bed, but often makes her exit shortly after the lights go out. If I wake up in the small hours, I find her back on the bedroom chair — not sleeping, just existing. (See Item 4.)
Apparently being a cat is pretty exhausting. But being a human is too. So maybe we should all take more naps.
(Or just watch our cats take them.)
4. Don’t do too much. Just be.
Miss L. has the uncanny ability to sit still for long periods of time doing absolutely nothing. She just gazes sagely ahead, squinting occasionally as though trying to process too many deep thoughts at once.
Occasionally she does something truly profound, such as discovering her shadow.
Other times she does something truly mystifying, like clawing at the arm of the couch before running into the bedroom with the swiftness of a miniature cheetah — after which she becomes exhausted and collapses.
But most of the time, Miss L. is content to train those emerald green eyes on the middle distance and simply exist.
Luckily, her very existence is a source of great joy.
So next time you’re tempted to run around, try sitting still instead. It’s pretty relaxing. (I think we humans call it meditation.)
5. Give and you shall receive.
Finally: Miss L. loves to be loved, and she loves to love, and when she shows her love — even by crawling onto my stomach and squeaking in my face at 5:30 in the morning — I feel compelled to love her back.
Love begets love! It’s the simplest equation in the world.
Miss L. gives “head-hugs” on the regular, rubbing her face against my hand, foot, arm, or whatever appendage happens to be within reach. She purrs like a motorboat when petted, like a jet engine when brushed. She trots eagerly to the front door when she hears me come in. She even lets me lay my cheek on her side for a head-hug of my own.
Love and you shall be loved. Right?
If only it were always that simple.
So what have you learned from your furry friends?
Watch them carefully.
They possess wisdom we mere humans will never grasp.