I have a reputation. I have no shame in telling you that I am “That Lady.” I am the lady that loves cats, and have always had these furry friends in my life. I talk to them, I listen to them, we have play time and I will show you pictures of them in line at the grocery store. I am the Cat Lady. It was destined from the beginning as one of the formal photographs from my early childhood is of me posed with the family pet, Twinkles the cat; me in my bows and puffy sleeves and she in her bejeweled collar. Ever since, I have been hooked on the quiet, independent, soft, and playful nature of cats.
After the loss of my two long-time feline friends, Mr. Kat and Ginger, I felt the emptiness of the house and knew it was time to adopt again. I went to the local PAWS shelter and found two tuxedo cats in a cage together. There was a big Tom who fearlessly strutted about while surveying all of his surroundings. I noticed he was keeping watch for a tiny, frightened cat shaking in the corner of the cage. My heart broke as I realized how much fear she felt from noise of the shelter and a stranger looking in on her. She needed her protector, the big Tom, so I tucked them both into a carrier and took them home that very same day.
The big cat, Simon, took to the house without any hesitation. He needed no gentle introduction and quickly made himself at home. He practically insisted on a full house tour the moment he arrived and adapted to the new surroundings immediately.
But Sophie, the tiny one, stayed under the bed, barely moving for weeks. If I placed food and water near enough to her, she ate and drank alright, but it would take her many weeks to begin venturing from the safety of her hiding spot. And even then, only inch by inch.
In the beginning, I sat on the floor for extended periods of time just letting her know that I was there and had no expectations of her. I communicated with stillness that she was safe and in her forever home. After a couple of months, she started to move towards me, as I held out my hand and just waited. Eventually, she crept over to me and began to sniff and smell my hand, but petting was out of the question.
After a couple more months, she began doing this very particular prance-around-dance that I finally figured out was an invitation to be petted in an indirect kind of way. More months passed, and I could scratch her head. After a year, she took to sitting on my lap in quiet places and, after another year of building trust, she now does all kinds of flips and turns to be sure I can pet all the places.
Two years! It took two years of waiting and holding still before this gentle (and likely traumatized) being felt safe. Today, she is a constant companion and loving friend for me and that only happened because I had the patience and took the time to hold ground for her; I allowed her to be exactly how she was without rushing her.
Many times, my journey with Sophie reminds me that there is a part in all of us that is scared, tender, and not sure it is safe in the world. That part in us may show a brave face or hide behind someone or something else to feel protected and hidden. Our traumatized hearts may hide from engaging in relationship, drown in addictive behaviors, or disappear in busy-ness to avoid facing and feeling the scary parts within. Through my own searching and healing, I am convinced that the most scared part of us is always there waiting to be seen and heard. Our tender hearts are eager to bloom under the patient presence of our own loving self.
The key is patience and time. When we quiet down our internal pace, sometimes in the faithful presence of others, we can begin to coax out the part of us that is hiding under the proverbial bed of our activity, cravings, relationships, or jobs. Usually, with enough time and loving presence, we understand the underlying fears, needs, or actions not yet taken, that are waiting for attention. We can move steadily towards what we thought we couldn’t handle and learn to dance and prance in joy over the discovery of our deepest needs. Over time, we find we can be trusted to meet our inner self with patience and love.
Not unlike the loving vigil that I kept with Sophie, we have to sit still, hold ground and allow healing and growth to unfold at its own pace. We can do this by daily practices, like journaling or meditation. We can experiment by taking one small action each week to discover what allows our scared self to rejoice. We can stage celebrations when our heart feels open! Whatever it takes to bring healing, be sure to wrap it up in the warm embrace of patience and watch your heart unfold.