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November 21, 2016

5 lessons on resilience from my rescue cats

In January of 2014, my sweetie and I attended a feral cat adoption day, and changed our own lives. Our sweet cat Dorothy chose us as her people that day. She laid her head on my hand and fell asleep, and I knew immediately that she needed to be a part of our family.

Eighteen months later, we adopted Harriet. Dorothy and Harriet are now best friends and sisters from another whisker. Those cats have truly made us a family. They’ve also taught me more than I ever dreamed about resilience.

These two cats had incredibly tough starts in life.What’s more, Dorothy came to us with a neurological disability. Harriet, we were warned, hissed at other cats. Yet they are two of the most open-hearted, loving, affectionate, and *fun* beings I’ve ever met.

The years since they’ve come into our lives have been the best ever.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

One no (or even 100 noes) doesn’t mean you’re unloveable or unworthy.

Dorothy lived in a foster home for five whole months after she was found by the cat rescue where we adopted her. That meant that she went to an adoption fair every weekend for five whole months before we chose each other. It still boggles my mind that anyone could meet her once and not fall in love.

But all of those “noes” didn’t mean that she was unloveable. It just meant that everyone was waiting for the right fit. She didn’t let it dissuade her from being deeply loving. She kept putting herself out there. No matter the rejection, she kept offering love.

Until she found someone who picked her back. (Us!)

Just because you’ve heard no before, doesn’t mean the right person (or a yes) isn’t about to come along.

Disability doesn’t mean broken.

Years and years ago, my sweetie and I watched this video on Youtube and decided that we (proactively) wanted to adopt a cat with a disability. Cats with disabilities have lower adoption rates, despite most having normal lifespans and low to no extra care required. We knew that we wanted to give an overlooked cat an amazing home.

As someone with an invisible disability and chronic illness, I identified so strongly with Dorothy, as soon as we brought her home. It took her some time to settle in. She had to fix her courage to do everyday things.

But over time, she developed her confidence and truly thrived. Her disability doesn’t hold her back. It doesn’t make her broken or a burden – it just gives her a jaunty walk and a little extra sass.

While I knew that my own disabilities didn’t make me “broken” either, Dorothy gave me new perspective on our our challenges equip us to be more resilient. In fact, our imperfections make us more charming and more lovable, in some cases.

Everyone moves at their own pace.

Harriet was our second adoptee, about a year and a half after we brought Dorothy home. Harriet doesn’t have any sort of disability and we brought her home at a younger age. She’s very active, which makes her appear to be more confident.

But Harriet is much shier around strangers. She hid under the bed for a good week after we moved house this past summer. She takes a while to warm up to new situations. This has been an incredible lesson for me that there really are no “shoulds”.

Everyone moves at their own pace, which should be honored. These days, Harriet is quite comfortable around our new housemates and in her new home. It just took her a little while.

A good reminder to be patient and respectful. Your trajectory might not look like someone else’s, but that doesn’t make it “wrong”.

True pleasure is found in simplicity.

In a sunbeam. At dinnertime, in a small white ramekin. With just a few belly scritches.

We humans make things needlessly complicated. Cats understand the simple pleasures of a piece of string. And they really don’t understand why you find Twitter so compelling. My cats have taught me the superiority of a nap in the sun over another re-run or Facebook refresh or buying myself another thing I don’t need.

I learn a lot just from being with these cats. When I talk about my self-care, they figure prominently. Instead of rushing to the next thing, I find myself laying in a sunbeam with them. I watch them while they watch the world – and I allow my mind to wander, also.

While affectionate, they’re pretty low maintenance – pretty content with what they’ve got. They get excited about a cardboard box and a little bit of fish. May we all be filled with that kind of exuberance and gratitude.

Decide who you want to make proud – and forget the rest.

I know that at the end of the day, jerks on the Internet or random humans don’t determine my worth. I care about fewer and fewer opinions these days. I really just don’t sweat it the way I used to. My barometer of success is simple:

  • Am I doing work that feels meaningful?
  • Am I showing up for people I love, fully?
  • And: are my cats excited to come snuggle with me?

They’re pretty awesome, after all. And they’ve taught me the value of focusing on the opinions of those who truly matter, who show me love every day, and letting the rest go.

This is part of my Sacred Focus work. By focusing more on what feels precious and meaningful to me – by making a sacred practice of that – I create space to experience what is personally sacred to me every single day.

This also means that I don’t take setbacks or criticism quite as personally. When I know what my Sacred Focus is, the rest falls away. It means that I’m more resilient to difficulty, because I’ve already put into place what means the most.

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