Nearly broke and pessimistic about the world, journalist Jane Ganahl’s heart and mind were opened by one abandoned cat.
Today I am honored to bring to you an excerpt of a piece written by the talented writer and cat lover Jane Ganahl originally published in the 2012 November/December issue of Spirituality Health. I hope you love this piece as much as I do. I can so relate to Jane’s story of how her life has been enriched by cats in unimaginable ways, and I think you will to. Of course it doesn’t hurt the girl loves her wine as much as I do! (Read more about Jane at the end of this this post!)
I glance at my watch quickly, at the risk of spilling some of the Sancerre in my glass. It’s almost 10 p.m., and I’m doing the sleep-math in my head. If I go to bed by 11, I’ll get only seven hours before I have to wake up and prepare the traps. Oberon, Ariel and Puck will be waiting for me on the sidewalk as they have these last two months since emerging, blinking tiny eyes, from the depths of the garbage-filled ravine where they were born, seeking their daily meal. They trust me now, and it’s time…
“Jane rescues cats! Don’t you, Jane?”
My friend Ellen raises her martini glass in my direction with a smile, and the mention of my name snaps me back to the present. She is an author of some renown, and we are surrounded by other A-listers at a San Francisco fundraiser for the literary festival I produce. Armistead smiles and the corners of his eyes crinkle with mischief.
“You’re too young and hip to be a crazy cat lady!” he quips. The others laugh, but I feel a flush of embarrassment.
“Not just yet,” I reply with a wry smile. “But that time is coming, and soon. When you see me showing up at these things wearing my bathrobe, stage an intervention.”
There’s no point in trying to explain myself. It’s impossible, in this setting and in most others, to translate verbally what has happened to my life in the last two years. How my smoothly running life’s been upended and complicated — but also enormously enriched — starting with just one small act of kindness.
How insane it was to have six cats in my home — three of my own and three fosters — during my daughter’s recent wedding. And how, by doing this work, the “eyes of my eyes are opened,” to quote the great e.e. cummings.
So, as usual, I wordlessly collect my things and tiptoe toward the door. This time, I’m intercepted by a woman I know a little through publishing circles. She says she wants to know more about my avocation.
“I’ve fed strays near my house for years,” she says. “But I don’t have the time to trap them, get them fixed, find them homes. How are you able to be that committed?”
I pause. No one has ever asked me this. “I don’t know,” I say with a smile. “I just can’t see suffering and not do something about it. Maybe I’m a Buddhist in the making?”
I want to finish the thought, but fearing an outburst of florid emotion, instead I say my goodnights. I want to say that I do it because when I rescue a cat, knowing it will transform from a sad, parasite-ridden, emaciated scarecrow into a healthy, silken-haired angel with the promise of a date on someone’s lap, it makes me feel like the world’s best gardener. I can take a neglected rosebush and make it bloom anew.
And in turn, despite the cost and disappointments and setbacks, I have bloomed as well. My life has never been fuller, more gratifying, or more full of grace and love. My spirituality, long-buried by a too-busy life and misplaced priorities, has pushed its way into my everyday consciousness. Where my version of bliss was once getting a good book review, now it’s coaxing a first purr from a long-feral puss.
I blame this entire thing on one plucky and beat-up old kitty who appeared at the front door of my Northern California coastal home almost two years ago around midnight, meowing indignantly.
When I brought it food (how could I not?) and put a blanket on the chair by my front door, I thought the wayfarer would be gone in the morning. Instead, there it was, sunning cozily on the blanket and waiting for its next handout. This kitty was a mess: flea-infested, scrawny, and with ears tattered by battles in the wild. It was also clearly not a feral cat, but someone’s pet gone astray: happy to be petted, and it even purred.
I would have sent it packing by refusing food, but something about it touched me. Maybe I recognized a fellow survivor?
I was, at that moment, totally broke. After a 2006 newspaper layoff, I’d run my 401K dry. A book I’d spent a year writing did not earn me a dime, and I was looking at declaring personal bankruptcy. But when I realized that my new friend needed medical attention, I did not hesitate.
“Does it have a name?” the local veterinarian asked me.
Being a huge San Francisco Giants fan, I had an idea: “Well, it’s either Buster or Posey, depending on how the exam goes.”
The vet smiled. “It looks like you have a Posey girl,” she said.
The vet also diagnosed her with inflammatory bowel disease, which would explain why she was wasting away, and treated her for fleas and worms, which she had aplenty. When I puzzled as to why such a lovely critter would end up on my doorstep, the vet’s reply stunned me:
“I imagine she was dumped in the bushes near your house by someone who didn’t want to deal with her medical issues. It happens all the time.”
And then she refused payment. Soon after that, other small miracles started to happen. My father, never forthcoming with money, offered to help me out of debt. One friend offered a teaching job, another an editing gig.
When I shared this with my friend Carole Simone, a Palo Alto spiritual coach, she smiled. “Don’t you see? You rescued Posey, and Posey is you.”
After doing everything for myself and everyone in my sphere since my divorce nearly two decades ago, to be on the receiving end of generosity was simply overwhelming.
In my doting care, Posey improved rapidly over the weeks from a scrawny mess to a beautiful tabby with rich fur and bright eyes. And as she transformed, so did I.
My Type A routine faltered: I began to find it unsatisfying to spend every waking moment at the computer or on the social rounds; instead, I found excuses to hang out with Posey in the spare bedroom, reading a book or watching TV while she curled up on my lap. My heart, solidly closed after innumerable unsatisfying relationships and years of fiscal disasters, began to open.
When my friend Wendy, who had lost her senior kitty months earlier, adopted Posey, I cried, before collecting myself to reassess.
“What a wonderful experience!” I thought. “I’m so glad that worked out so beautifully and that the karma was so … instant! What a nice chapter in my life!”
Little did I know that once the door to my spiritual heart had been kicked open, it would refuse to close.
Jane Ganahl is a journalist, author and co-founder of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival. She authored the memoir “Naked on the Page: the Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife,” and edited of the anthology “Single Woman of a Certain Age.” She thought her life was full until one tattered stray cat began to show her that it was in fact quite empty. She currently has four kitties (Claude de Pussy, Thumbelina, Iggy Pop and Mocha), and is fostering three more (Diego Rivera, Charlie Brown and Romeo) for whom she hopes to find fabulous homes. Over the last two years she’s rescued a total of 15 kitties (and counting!).