The recent series of Life Lessons I have experienced have been sobering. First, turning 40 was a more pleasant surprise than I’d anticipated. Then, sadly, my “career” with Starbucks took a disappointing turn. Of course, losing my car – and potentially my life – completely opened my eyes. It’s like these experiences were all ear-marked especially for me.
I don’t generally like to wax philosophical, but I am at a point in my life where I can say this and truly mean it: I believe things happen for a reason.
Let me explain.
For the first time in over three months I went for a walk. Outside. I know, you can lift your chins now – I was equally shocked (this isn’t the Life Lesson I’m alluding to, but it was unexpected nevertheless). I woke up, felt annoyed with myself for not having exercised in months, and decided to put on some sneakers, a long sleeve shirt, a hat, and my Fuck It attitude. So I did it. I took a nice, brisk walk around an old, familiar route I used to jog (when my knees weren’t the screaming bitches that they are now).
As I neared the end of my walk, something happened. Looking back, it was fateful. It had to be. There, scurrying across the busy four-lane street, was an animal. Tiny, quick-footed, the size of a grey purse. It came right at me. I stopped dead in my tracks: a kitten, frail, looking haggard and weary, coming straight for me. It jumped the curb, ran past my feet, and leapt into the ice plants that grew along the rise in the grass.
Savior Mode kicked in. From where I stood I could she she was malnourished. She was so young!! If I had to guess, I’d say a month old, six weeks at most. I carefully crossed the grass – clicking my tongue, patting my hands together, trying to soothe her. She wouldn’t budge. She was panting furiously, her eyes large and cautious. Despite her condition, she was beautiful. I wanted to pick her up and take her home. I stepped closer, putting out my hand…
…then, what I had mistaken for meowing had actually been hissing. Fierce hissing. She was feral, of course, what else should I have expected? She batted her paw at me, quick as a rattlesnake. That poor creature. I sat down, trying to satiate the tiny kitten, speaking to her the way cat owners do. She was unfazed. Her eyes, I could see, were clouded over. Her mouth, too, was covered in sores and drool. I texted my good friend, Martha, an equal Lover of Animals, and she suggested the kitten might have distemper.
Food, I thought. I’ll get her some food!
I got home as quickly as I could. I grabbed a can of cat food, got in my car, and went back to her. Fifteen minutes had passed. Astonishingly, she was still there, looking relaxed yet still panting heavily. I cracked open the can and used the lid as a spoon. I tried to feed her. She could smell the food, and I could see that she wanted it, but nothing. I was able to get a small amount of it on her mouth, her tongue – but she didn’t even try. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t even swallow what I’d given her.
Then I saw the ants. Crawling on her, near her mouth, her eyes. Every time I tried to get close, she’d hiss at me. I knew then she was exhausted merely because of my presence. I could call the Humane Society…but their priorities wouldn’t have let them get to me – or the kitten – in time. What in the hell was I supposed to do?!?
Something painful yet profound occurred to me at that very moment. It was like a needle to my skin – quick, seething, impossible to ignore. I cried because of it. I sobbed. The moment was surreal yet intrinsic. It was a very, very hard pill to swallow because, frankly, I hadn’t thought it was something I was capable of. There was a difficult decision to be made:
I had to walk away.
There I was, in my sweaty shirt and sneakers, hovering over a tiny, broken creature, realizing with a sense more jarring than mortality, that there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t be a savior. I couldn’t move mountains, as much as I wanted. I stood there, stunned, absorbing the very moment I realized that sometimes we MUST walk away. Sometimes there are issues Beyond Our Control. No matter how much it hurt, I could not be the person to save this animal. Not this time. I’d done it before, and it was hard – VERY hard. It was a strange sensation, to have this puzzle piece snap into place, allowing to both forgive myself AND walk away.
And I prayed, I did. I’m not a religious man, but I prayed. I prayed for that poor little soul. I prayed for myself. I also took stock. I took stock in my life, in my experiences, in my personal growth. I understood the shame I felt was normal, it was okay, and even then there is nothing to be done except feel the feelings – and move on.
I got home and briefly shared with Keith what had happened. I was brief on purpose, not giving him too many details. Seemingly unconnected, I thought of my new job starting next month. I looked outside at my new car. I even looked at my 40 year-old face in the mirror – the lines, the wrinkles, the gray in my beard. I recalled my father leaving when I was 8. I thought of that first car accident, when I was 19, and what a Life-Changer that was.
I thought of Keith, our relationship, despite its downs and ups. I thought of family, friends, work, and money. I thought, of course, about that kitten. And how I walked away. I’m not totally heartless – two hours later I drove past that spot…and she was gone.
And I thought, blessedly, how some things simply happen for a reason. Sometimes things happen and, no matter what, we’re meant to simply walk away. And that’s okay.