Old Cat, New Tricks

Posted by on 04.02.08 | 4 Comments
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http://www.med.wisc.edu/news/item.php?id=2756

I have a quote on my wall above my computer at home that says “Life is a delicate balance between letting things happen and making things happen.” Working in child abuse prevention, I am constantly walking this line, between motivating people and rushing them. People’s hearts and minds can move slower than molasses, I think, but the effort is worth it. I can accomplish nothing if I don’t practice restraint. Patience. Compassion. In the end and even along the way, change is possible. In the same way that trees can fall in forests even when we’re not watching, I believe we can profoundly impact others without ever knowing it. And I refuse to accept people’s conviction that things and people do not change. Maybe it comes too little, too late. Or maybe it’s a change for the worse! But nothing in this world is stagnant- for every butterfly wing flapped in this world, there is at least another butterfly who feels the breeze.

I put the link above because I like it when medical science and the art of living intersect and support eachother, rather than cowering in their respective corners. I am growing so tired of the divisions between fields of study and schools of thought. Why is it so hard for people to work together? It seems like once people become semi-knowledgeable in something, they forget how little they know! Anyway, according to this study, empathy circuits in your brain are reinforced by practice, just like recognition or memory. So it makes sense that change can be slow, methodical even. And so I must practice empathy, for myself, for others, and for my frustration with others who aren’t so quick to jump on my express train to fantasy land. But honestly- if we don’t hope, we are hopeless! What’s the point of living if we don’t think tomorrow can be better than today? Seriously, people.

Here’s my latest hope fest. Is hope the same thing as stubbornness? My two foster cats have folded themselves into the corner of my bathroom behind the toilet. They scamper across the room only in the middle of the night, because the food bowl is a little less full each morning. But they have not moved voluntarily in my presence, once. Not to eat, not to stretch, not even to go to the bathroom. After I cut a clump of *** from the long-haired’s tail, I just slumped against the wall of the bathroom, my head on the toilet, and started to lose hope. These guys deserve to stretch and yawn in the sunlight like my own cats, not live compressed in a corner, afraid to live.

But I slapped myself out of hopelessness, because I am determined to bring these kitties back to life. I don’t know what horrors their pasts hold, or if there is any future for them. But I take tiny victories as they come. On Day 2, they stopped immediately defecating when I approached them. And on Day 3, the most terrified of the two began to purr when I rubbed behind his ear. If I can’t make these cats adoptable, no one can. It’s now Day 10, and although they could still pass for cat-shaped doorstops, they watch me when I go, and stretch out a little to let me rub their bellies better. Now, I’m really not in the habit of comparing animals with children, but this does remind me of the time I volunteered years ago in a small experimental “school” and the overwhelmed “teacher” told me to “take the kindergarteners and do math, or something.”

This teacher’s idea of teaching was to scream and yell and accomplish absolutely nothing, including have any hopes or expectations at all for any of her students. So when I got the tiny mathphobes in a classroom and told them what we’d be doing, and half of them immediately hid under the table while the other half cried, I had to circle my emotional wagons and devise a plan, immediately.

So it went like this: I didn’t even utter the word “math” again until each tiny person was given a turn to stand up and tell a story to their classmates. If anyone interrrupted, the storyteller got to start all over again. After each story, we clapped and thanked the storyteller for sharing his or her amazing story. This took approximately 45 minutes. I then launched an elaborate math game with point systems and motivational speeches for almost two hours, having them do jumping jacks (which they found hilarious) every time the tears threatened to flow. Which was about every 15 minutes. The toughest nut to crack, a minute little boy with sweatshirt sleeves barely past his elbows and a persistent downward stare and trembling lip, was on the brink of a breakthrough when the “teacher” burst in to check and see if they were “doing anything”, then announced to us all that I shouldn’t worry about him, he just “had issues because his mother abandoned him.” So have you! I wanted to say. Oh, and can you please jump off a bridge.

Needless to say, all four 5 year-olds finished that sheet of math AND understood it, although the extra time it took interfered with the teacher’s “lesson plan.” All those little brains needed in order to learn were patience and compassion. So maybe I can still learn new tricks too. Like practicing more patience and compassion with people like that teacher. And standing up to them because I don’t just hope, but believe, that they can change. Then maybe I really can make a difference in this world.

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