I used to believe that a girl could fall in love with anyone. “Even a blind dog with a note in its mouth,” I’d say. Any highwayman who would stare into her eyes, and speak more than a couple of sentences with her, had a chance at stealing her heart.
But, I didn’t exactly believe in unconditional love. A dark-eyed scoundrel was one thing, but an unkempt, aging, short-tempered person, well, I could be polite, but loving them without having learned to love them since they were young? Not so easy.
Then I had a visitor who showed me differently. Lauryn came with her mother and grandmother and stayed with us this last week. She is beautiful, with a genuine, “I love today” smile and bright, accepting eyes. She is polite, kind, and without guile. At nine, she showed me how to love with arms wide-open, even the “least of these.”
Nearly seventeen years ago we got an adorable, fluffy black kitten. We named him Sherlock. Sherlock is not a social animal. He spends most of his time alone in the basement when it’s too hot or too cold outside, and in the backyard whenever he can.
When we lived in a different house, the neighbor’s yellow cat befriended him. Milo was the type of cat that would be seen walking down the middle of the street meowing to himself as if he was practicing a speech. Milo would try to come into our house behind Sherlock, who sometimes seemed to be dashing in to escape the younger, extroverted cat. But Sherlock did tolerate him, and they didn’t fight.
Sherlock is a gentleman, in a stiff, Downtown Abby’s butler-ish way. Sherlock comes when called, and for the most part, goes out or down when we tell him to. However, as he has aged, like a stubborn old man, he will refuse to go downstairs if he doesn’t want to.
In the last couple of years Sherlock has become more vocal. His voice is scratchy now and his words are brief, unless he puts a stuffed mouse in his mouth and howls from the basement like a wolf when the moon is full. He is no longer a fat cat, but skin and bones and recently he has begun a most disturbing habit of pulling the hair out of his backside in clumps.
Enter Lauryn. Since Lauryn’s grandma is allergic to cats, we kept Sherlock in the basement or outside this past week. Lauryn, who had just received two new pets from Build-a-bear, neglected them during the day as she worried over our old cat. My husband, as bewildered as I by her affection, looked up his age for her benefit. (As if he could help her see the folly of her attachment.) Sherlock is now as old for a cat as an 88-year-old man.
It didn’t matter to Lauryn. Sensing his personality, and fragileness, she didn’t maul our cat, as most children have tried. She gently stroked him when he allowed her. She often went to the basement just to keep him company, make sure he had food and water, and to talk to him. She kept track of our basement dweller. If we’d ask, where’s Sherlock, she’d reply, “He’s outside.” If she wasn’t sure, she immediately, almost in a panic, set out to find him and to reassure herself that he was fine.
By the second day, recognizing she would be petting him regularly, I took Sherlock outside, and against his feeble protests, gently gave him a soapy bath. The result was that though he was fluffier (in most places), his scattered pluckings were more pronounced.
Lauryn didn’t seem to see the threadbare holes in his fur or notice the bony spine when she ran her hand over him. His old voice didn’t bother her. She’d say, “He’s soooo cute.” Or “I love his meow. It’s so cute.”
I had to take a double look. My cat? You’re talking about Sherlock? The guy I hide when company comes?
Yesterday Lauryn and her matriarchs left before sunrise. Sherlock has been disoriented ever since. He is grumpier, more demanding, and wanders around, looking.
And I am pausing more often to stoop over and pet him.
Lauryn’s presence lingers. She changed all of us. She taught us that when we see with our hearts, there is beauty in everything.
And people (and cats masquerading as highwaymen) need our love, not our judgement and built-up prejudices.