Dan and I have a joke that we’d like to have two cats.
This has never actually happened in our married life. Someone or something thinks the normal number of cats for the house is five, so when we lose one another is provided. Sometimes the replacement comes a little ahead of the loss, so we end up over-catted for a few months. Right now we have five spread over two households and no new arrivals (knock on wood) which leads me to believe that when the kids move out we MIGHT actually get to two cats? Maybe.
It’s always in circumstances where they are least convenient, of course, because you know that’s how life happens. Or something about the cat makes him really inconvenient. For instance Havelock cat is a turkish van, in a family allergic to cats, and with me not able to clean every day to defuzz the house. (I really need to train him to accept a bath a week, because he needs it, and it helps with my breathing.) But Havey was skinny, had sores on his face from a fox attack, a broken tail and was covered in a thick layer of grease from eating off the dumpster of the Vietnamese restaurant next door. We couldn’t leave him in the mini-golf course where people were hitting him with clubs for playing with the balls.
We were dealing with problems with middle school, I was contracted for six books, it was the last convenient time ever to deal with little half-feral kitten.
But he is our most affectionate/funniest cat, and the number of times he’s gotten one or the other of us out of a blue funk, including this year, when he climbs on us for pets when we’re really stressed and helps, have been more than I can count. He’s a little entertainment system and life support in one.
If it comes to that, take Euclid (please, he’s more neurotic than he should be) whom we rescued from death row at the humane society, a year before nine eleven. We really didn’t want to take him/didn’t need another cat, but he had a URI and their policy for that is to put them down. He was a year old and very affectionate. I didn’t know that through the days after 9/11 he’d help mend my broken heart. And yes, I know that sounds loony, but it felt like everything was broken and wrong, till he curled in my lap.
Then there’s the kids. Despite the fact both are very much wanted, they managed to arrive at the most inconvenient times possible. Robert came not only when we became unemployed (in my case due to being put on bed rest) but also when the local economy had just taken a nose dive, so we spent the next two years moving around a lot and eventually across the country and paying mortgage/rent with so little money that we lived off bulk bits of chicken (sparing) and mega bags of frozen vegetables from I THINK Sam’s club (the company here in CO gave us a membership. In the Carolinas we lived from side-of-the-road vegetable stands.) Oh, yeah, and rice, because rice is cheap.
I suspect the weight we gained those years will never leave us, and it certainly finished turning my hair white. I wouldn’t re-live that time for all the tea in China. BUT twenty four years later, our kid is fun to hang out with and might eventually do something of worth in the world.
His brother too, was born when we moved twice in a year (I think the only reason we don’t have a third kid this year is that it’s physically impossible. Even so, I keep hoping– er expecting to find a newborn in the milk cooler on the front porch.
Anyway, second kid is also fun to hang out with, and at 21 is not only a more or less declared Son of Martha but the voice of reason in his friends’ circle.
Then there’s friends. it never rains but it pours. If we’re tight on money, house/car need repairs, I’m feeling poorly, boys and Dan are swamped with work, that’s when a friend needs help, monetary or labor.
And yeah, we usually sigh, and retrench and help, because we’ve so often been helped (often by other people) when we needed. I don’t think we’d have survived, otherwise.
I was thinking about that as I woke up. I think part of being an adult is embracing the inconveniences, dealing with them, and often — in the case of cats and kids — after a while realizing they’re blessings, even when they aren’t.
Because the thing is I’ve seen people who turn their backs on every inconvenience, every cry for help, every opportunity to make someone’s day just a little better at little cost of time/effort.
And my experience is they pay for it. Now, this is not a religious thing, mind you. It’s a here and right in this world, thing.
People who live only for themselves and what’s most convenient/pleasurable might even end up well off, monetarily, but they usually are unhappy/sad/resentful people.
They’re the people who obsess on micro-aggressions and spend forever talking about how this or the other segment of the population should be eliminated. The most benign obsess on their health and become nearly entertaining hypochondriacs, usually complaining of diseases never known to man. The less entertaining worry endlessly about their sexuality, or how someone looked at them on the street, which are less entertaining but more modern forms of hypochondria.
But behind it all there is this impression of almost hysterical despair, as they worry/complain they’re not getting what they should out of life.
It never occurs to them you get what you should out of life by starting out embracing inconveniences: kids, animals, friends.
I’m not so perfect in charity that I embrace EVERY inconvenience, and yes, I had to learn over time that there are people and things you can’t help. You could pour all of yourself into helping a person or a situation with no improvement except that you lost your time.
BUT embracing some inconveniences is part of being an adult. No, more than that, it’s part of being human. You don’t get up in the morning and go look for trouble, but if you come across something that’s sorely wrong and you can help, you do so.
Note that this form of help, the form adults do, never involves screaming for someone else to help the person. Oh, yes, if it’s beyond your ability and there is something you can do in terms of filling governmental forms or helping someone get more permanent help, you might do it. Even if you disagree with government help, right now it is what it is, and taxes and regulations often prevent people from helping in person.
But if you come across someone who wants a meal and you go marching off demanding the government give free food to everyone, it’s just another way of avoiding the inconvenience, and avoiding dealing with real need, while still feeling “special” because you “understand the need” and lobby someone to help.
The help adults give is more concrete and less glorious. You find a dog lost in traffic and you take it home, feed it, trace its owner and/or find him a home. You hear a friend is going through tough times, so you cook a big meal and have the family over. You hear someone is having trouble making rent, and you forego that vacation you were going to take and forward the money.
The personal aspect of this keeps it from going out of control or consistently going to people/critters who won’t take advantage of this.
And of course, it doesn’t allow you to preen about your passion for social justice. Mostly because you’re too busy with personal justice to do so.
But not only does it, little by little and imperceptibly make the world a better place, but it makes your life happier. Yeah, okay, you might never have that $500 a day spa visit, but that would have passed in a day, while having used the money to help someone enmeshes you in the weft and warp of humanity. Do a few of these, and you find you have a circle, who comes without your even needing to call and helps you before you even realized you needed help. Like, say, my old writers group, watching my kids so Dan could be with me when I was in ICU for 11 days 21 years ago. I had done very minor things for them along the line, including hosting the group and providing meals (when meeting was right after work on a week day.) Their rush to help allowed Dan to be with me, which saved my life more than once.
And their cleaning the house when I finally came back home. And brought us food for two weeks, while I recovered.
I was more than paid for those minor inconvenient kindnesses.
And when someone asks “Why are you bothering to do this?” The answer is “because I can.”
There might be a pay off in the future or not, but there is a pay off right now. It makes you the kind of person who does what he/she can, not the kind of person to whines that there should be someone else doing something.
One tends to be much happier than the other, even if poorer and more strapped for time.