Slowing down to connect and trust
And somehow, there are cat pictures!
I participated in a course last summer and one of our first assignments was to spend 15 minutes a day observing the world around us and narrating our observations aloud. I would go on walks and, with a game friend who was excellent at keeping six feet from me, we’d spend some time just noticing the world. “Squirrel”. “Old stone wall”. “Hawk”. “Purple flower.” I imagine those we passed had some questions.
Interestingly, and very unexpectedly (at least to me), this practice has supported my coming just a bit more into interconnection with all beings around me; has helped me slow down to an earth-based pace in my life; and helped me choose gratitude and joy in the majority of my waking moments. This simple exercise asked me to get out of my head, out of current events, out of theorizing about life; it invited me to take note of what was happening, right now, all around me.
For the first time, I noticed a neighbor’s trumpet vine had grown over my fence and was viewable through my kitchen window. For weeks, as I made my morning tea, I watched the vine grow and then burst with red and orange colored trumpets. Then weeks later, rather ignorant about the plant, I was shocked to see this massive seed pod had erupted forth from the vine, right near the flowers. Sipping my too hot bergamot scented black tea, I watched as it swelled and then, some weeks later, dropped its bounty on my side of the fence. My new morning ritual of tea and observing this gorgeous flower helped me see just how long things take at an earth-based pace. It took all spring and part of the summer for that flower to be ready to shout her presence and claim, like Dolly Parton in the opening lines to her single, “Here I Am”. It took the full summer for the seed pod to be formed and later drop. The trumpet vine was teaching me about taking my time in my work, in my healing.
As we entered fall, and after the trumpet vine had left my morning window bereft of activity, my squirrel arrived. Every day around lunchtime, the squirrel would arrive on my fence post with a cremini mushroom to feast upon. Looking into my kitchen, watching my movements carefully, she’d take her time rotating the mushroom by the stalk and eating the cap. We’ve become such friends, I even bought and mounted a picnic table feeder for her. She’s still a bit skeptical, but I’m looking forward to earning her trust a bit more and seeing the blooming trumpet vine this summer flanking the picnic table while my squirrel munches on some ripe corn on the cob. (I’m also looking forward to her eventually giving up the goods about where this hoard of cremini mushrooms is near my house.)
On my walks, I continued to marvel at what I’d never noticed before and what I just hadn’t previously taken time to delight in. How had I not previously marveled for hours at the community flower garden and its incredible, ever changing blooms? How had I never laughed at what my friend and I now call Happy Hour, where dozens of female house finches line up on a fencepost each, all in a row, and seem to legit just be shooting the shit with each other? Instead of bringing judgment to myself for how distracted or aloof I’d been up to this point, I have found deep gratitude and joy that I found these experiences in the present.
The world seemed full of so many new, incredible sights, smells, sensations, and emotions. I now feel this growing connection from my heart’s center to the earth in a way I’m not sure I ever have. It feels healing and restorative, like I might finally be learning how to lower the walls that guard my heart and actually feel emotions, something I’ve spent more than 30 years actively avoiding and protecting myself from.
A few years ago, my beloved first cat, Gabby, was diagnosed with kidney disease (he’s still early in this, and we’re managing it). I’ve learned a lot about protein levels and how critical it is to find a vet that can communicate with me effectively. It has also been the catalyst for one of my intense annoyances: finding a wet food that both he and Piper will actually eat. I’ve wasted so much money in this effort and I’ve found hilarity in the reality that of course my bougie ass cats would have the AUDACITY to not eat the sustainable, wild-caught, grass-fed selections that graced their bowls. For a while, a neighbor and her cats enjoyed the many failed attempts at finding a food that Gabby and Piper would consume. Another time, a different neighbor who was cat sitting while I was away found more than she bargained for at 6am when she opened a can to find a whole salmon eye staring back at her (thankfully, the cats didn’t like this one). I also made friends with a local foster cat mom and would drive cases of wet food to her for her little charges. I’ve finally, after about two years of this, (mostly) found one that they will eat with regularity, if not begrudgingly.
My street, like many, has been host to different stray cats over the years. Two summers ago, it was heartbreaking for a neighbor and I to have to take black and white tuxedoed Oscar (Bob to my neighbor) to the vet, when he fell sick. Ultimately, it became clear there wasn’t anything we could do for his suffering but to put him down; we cried together in my car when we got home. Oscar-Bob had competently and lovingly guarded our street and headbutted our legs for 14 years. He was a cat that looked both ways before crossing the street and always had a meow ready to greet you when you got home from work. I wondered when a new stray would take charge of the block.
This summer, in my “notice and name” assignments, I took note of a small black kitten. Painfully shy, as many strays are, I could tell the wee one was also interested in people, at least in theory. It saddened me, seeing her so interested in potential friendship, and knowing that she was unlikely to be adopted, even if I could get her into a shelter, because of her black coat. Each time I’d see her, I’d call out and try to make friends. I’d been at this for months when (what I’m sure, decades from now, will still be referred to in hushed, reverent tones by Memphians as) the Winter Storm of ‘21 hit. I agonized with my dad about the cat’s welfare. He assured me, the cat would be fine. Still, I worried. And then, I resolved to up the friend game and start feeding her on my back porch with the most recently accumulated food my indoor bougies refused.
I left a can out and within an hour, I noticed it was gone, every last morsel. I took the opportunity to tell Gabby and Piper what it meant about their privilege that the new cat had NO QUALMS about sucking down the salmon and tuna mix they’d simply sniffed and walked away from. They gave the cat equivalent of an eyeroll and demanded more rubs. That night, I noticed the black cat on the back porch just sitting on the bench, a wee nervous, but also seemingly content.
Two days later, she was comfortable enough to be around when I set the food out. The visit gave me the opportunity to notice two very large announcements about his sex and to give him a name. Lazlo was suggested. I thought it was perfect. Laz, as I call him now, was warming up to me with a quickness. (Feeding a stray will do that.) Within a week, we went from Laz cautiously running away when I’d come out on the porch, to headbutts and figure eights around my legs. Laz found his voice and started trying out meows on me. Now, when I open the windows and blinds for the day ahead, I often find him waiting on the back porch.
Just two weeks in, Laz now spends hours on the porch, snoozing in the sun, feeding on some of the bougiest wet cat food a vegan can tolerate buying, and trying to figure out just how he likes to be pet. In this gorgeous spring weather we’ve been having, it’s been such a treat to spend time on the porch with him, reading and just taking pleasure in being able to make this being’s life a wee safer. A wee more predictable. A lot more full of love. It’s been such a gift these last few weeks, and it all started with simply pausing long enough to notice the world around me.
It’s easy to condense this story to one about my bleeding heart and my fussy cats, which is at least partially true. When I’m tempted to do that, though, I remind myself the world is plagued by a busyness that is corrosive to connection; that I’m not alone in carrying a guarded heart; that we too often don’t turn toward easing each other’s and the earth’s suffering. A coach of mine once looked me dead in the eye and told me that it was no wonder I didn’t trust anyone, I didn’t even trust myself. She was helping me see the connection between my uncontrolled anger during a transition, my (at the time) obsessive desire to control outcomes at work, and this distrust of myself and those around me. I remember in that same session talking to her about wanting to start dating again and she just laughed. She recommended I develop a relationship with the earth instead, as a first step to healing this trust issue. I had, at the time, absolutely no fucking idea what she even meant, but I could hear the truth in what she was offering, even if it rocked me to my core. This past summer, a different coach helped to show me one way to start and it was as simple as taking 15 minutes a day to pause and intentionally notice the world around me. As a result, Laz is currently napping safely on my back porch, I’ve got a whole squirrel friend, I’ve learned the names of flowers and trees I’d previously simply walked by, I’m starting to be able to identify the birds who are so gloriously announcing spring each day, I’m planning a native flower garden in place of my utterly dead landscaping, and I’ll be damned if I’m not learning to trust myself and others for perhaps the first time in my life.