Sounds of helpless, pitiful cries kept wafting through my backyard window as I gently refocused my attention on the clients sitting in my therapy office. At the next pause, I met the owner of the cries. An adorable, little, black and white kitten looked imploringly at me, hungrily begging for food and comfort. Wondering if it was lost or abandoned, I fed it, held it and posted to see if anyone local was seeking a lost pet.
As it appeared to want to adopt me as its mother, the famous book, ‘Are You my Mother” by P.D. Eastman came to mind. A baby bird traveled, seeking its mother and attempted to bond unsuccessfully with a variety of creatures until she finally found her mother. Upon seeing each other, both mother bird and baby bird intuitively recognized one another. At such a tender age, when independent living was not possible for this kitten, it, too, was trying to survive by attaching itself to someone who would understand its desperate communication where words were unnecessary.
It cried any time I resumed therapy with clients, literally begging me to hold it. I wondered what separated it from being close to its mother and being held closely by her. It clearly wanted to be held as badly as it wanted milk. The kitten would take a few sips and look up to ensure that my husband and I were still there before resuming to drink.
My husband was concerned about fleas and perhaps, even more so, about his wife seeming attached to this helpless kitten, while knowing that adopting it might pose issues for our daughters-in-law. They might choose long-term social distancing beyond the six feet recommendations. Yet, he was wise enough to probe gently as he saw my emotional turmoil, that would not necessarily respond to logical questions. He gently asked me questions about safety, as I gently stroked its soft fur and heard the contented purrs, while nodding politely at his queries.
I asked myself what was happening emotionally inside of me, as something was aching in my heart each time this tiny kitten mewed. It was time to look inside with curiosity. This kitten needed a home and we really were not in the market for adopting it. Nor were we in the market for abandoning it. It had real needs and had turned up at our back door. I noticed sadness that extended beyond this interesting attachment dilemma. How many people crave attachment without receiving the love they so badly want? How many people grieve for their loved ones who did bond with them, but are no longer in this world? How many people seek attachment from people unable to offer it for any number of reasons? How many people fear rejection and, therefore, avoid even asking for the acceptance and belonging that every person needs to survive?. We all need one another. None of us are totally self-sufficient or can exist as an island. Only Hashem is independent.
Perhaps, recent world events sensitized me even more to this reality. People endured isolation from their loved ones in life and even in illness and death. Recognizing our total helplessness and lack of control has never been so clear to so many of us, as it is now that we have experienced the complete shutdown of our world as we knew it.
I continued to look inside and invite further processing of my thoughts and emotions. Memories of stray cats and wounded birds being nursed back to health in our childhood garage came floating back to me. We did not always succeed, but we tried valiantly, and many animals recovered. Another childhood experience brought a smile to my face as I pictured the surprised look in my friend’s eyes. At one point during our visit, she went into the house to get drinks and warned me not to get close to the dog fenced in by her neighbor’s house. Like many children who are told not to do something, I was determined to do exactly the opposite. I decided that I would show her that dogs are not scary if you treat them nicely. By the time my friend came out, I had climbed over the fence and made a friend. The dog was wagging its tail and sniffing my hand. By the way, the mature part of me does not recommend doing this! But, dare I admit, it was a pleasurable experience. It is interesting that often we imbue the unknown with dangerous characteristics. Of course, at times, this information is accurate. There are true dangers in the world both in the animal world, as well as, sadly enough, in humanity. Yet, at other times, it is the result of our own projection. So many times, with people who intimidate us, once we show genuine positive regard, it is mirrored back in our direction.
Then, as my mind traveled to my adult memories, the many mefarshim (commentaries) I learned and later taught relating to compassion, emulating Hashem, and tzaar baalei chaim (cruelty to animals) filled my mind. For example, it is written that we are forbidden to eat live animals, and the sefer hachinuch comments that the level of cruelty involved is severe. Additionally, I remembered the Rambam’s (Maimonides’) comment that Hashem created feelings in animals, that include worry and concern for their children. Thus, they experience intense suffering if their young are harmed before their eyes.
My musings stopped as the small creature in my arms looked up to me, still uttering its wordless plea. I then posted to answer a woman who was publicizing the plight of her lost kitten. Hoping I might capitalize on a double opportunity, one of Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) and one of hashavas aveidah (the commandment to return lost items), I called her. Her cat had returned last night, so this wasn’t her cat. But, she networked and found a kind person willing to adopt the kitten. The cat was picked up with many thanks. Last I heard, the kitten is purring contentedly in its new home.
Aware that every experience that occurs in life can be impactful, I thank Hashem for sending the small kitten to evoke my compassion.