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All I really need to know in life, I learned from my cat.
You may think this sounds silly, but he was not your typical cat.
One summer, years ago, when my daughters were young and spent their days playing outside with the neighborhood children, we began to see a longhaired, orange tabby lounging in our front yard each day.
The girls said his name was Peaches, and he lived a few houses away from us, though he didn’t seem inclined to go home.
He was a charmer, and within days, was inviting himself right inside our house whenever the front door was opened. When we discovered his owners moved away and abandoned him, we capitulated and welcomed him in.
Peaches made himself right at home, and soon became my bosom buddy. Through moves, a divorce, and deaths in the family, he was a constant companion who taught me several valuable life lessons.
1. Know when it’s time to move on.
We always felt, from the way he arrived in our home (and a later discovery of his aversion to moving boxes, evidenced by his repeated attempts to “mark” said boxes), that Peaches had been aware of the impending move of his former family. He knew that change was coming. He scoped out the neighborhood and set about picking a new home, with nary a backward glance.
So often, we tend to hang on for dear life in situations that are not healthy for us, afraid or unwilling to see the reality before us. We benefit more when we are mindful of life, acknowledging and accepting when change is due.
2. Take the first step.
We marveled at the way Peaches waltzed right in as if he owned the place, announcing he was there to stay, even before we knew it ourselves. He exuded a confidence that, while not the usual feline haughtiness, still gave the impression that he knew this was the right choice for all of us.
Peaches arrived during a time when change was on the horizon for me as well, and soon, I became aware that it was time for me to forge a new life as a single mother.
Taking my cue from the cat, I took the first step. I focused on my future by enrolling in college, and waltzed into the work study office confident that there was a department somewhere on campus that could use my help. While my outward confidence may not have been as inwardly assured as my cat’s, it did get me a job at the college, which helped support me as I earned my degree.
Many times, when we are filled with self-doubt and uncertainty, it can feel impossible to make a choice, to take that hardest first step. The reality is, it’s the only step that’s required, and often, having taken it, everything else will fall into place for us. We just need to have enough confidence in ourselves to lift our foot and move it forward.
3. Take time to smell the flowers.
Peaches moved with me to an apartment, and one of his favorite daily activities was spending time basking in the sun on our third floor balcony. His first act was always to bury his face in the potted jasmine planted that twined its way up the railing, breathing in its heady scent.
While it was a comical picture, it was also a valuable reminder to take a moment to just breathe and appreciate simple beauty, and smelling the jasmine became a ritual for both of us that summer.
All these years later, the memory of his face surrounded by those starry little white flowers will pop into my mind, and I know it’s a sign for me to stop, take a breath, and center myself in the moment. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the speed at which life is passing.We fail to appreciate the small moments, not realizing how vital they are to our inner peace.
When we take the time to stop and smell the flowers—or appreciate a piece of art, or marvel at the sunset—those moments enrich us and help us maintain balance in an overly busy world.
4. Enjoy the music, and make some of your own.
My daughters grew up playing piano, and we soon learned that Peaches loved the piano.
When they sat down to play, he would come from wherever he was in the apartment and sit beside them on the piano bench, watching intently. If they left the keyboard cover open, later we would hear “plink, plink, plink” and then “Phwom!” as he walked across the keys and then plopped down, stretching his body to cover as many keys as possible. It didn’t matter to him whether the sound was melody or cacophony, he took pleasure in the making of the sound.
It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me, a reminder that music is in the ear of the beholder, and that there is great joy in the making of it.
Making music is something we all need to do more of. Music soothes us when we’re weary, uplifts us when we’re sad, and keeps our brains young when we practice it, no matter our level, amateur or expert. The sound we make matters not, it’s the act of making music that is important. Taking pleasure in the sound does our body good.
5. Be present.
Peaches had a knack for knowing when I was sad, and he would appear out of nowhere to climb up on my lap, reaching a paw to touch my cheek and butt his head under my chin as if to say, “I’m here. You’re not alone.”
During those challenging years when I was working, going to school, and raising my girls, this happened repeatedly, so I know it wasn’t a fluke. While he couldn’t fix any of the things that made me sad, it felt comforting to have him present.
Sometimes the best gift you can give someone is just to sit with them in their sorrow.
I am reminded of this whenever I have the opportunity to comfort someone now. You don’t have to fix anything. Just be present. Just be.
My furry companion and teacher has been gone for many years now, but the lessons he brought when he moved into my life will always remain. I’ve learned to trust my instincts, to be bold, to be mindful, to take pleasure in simple things, and to be present for those who need me.
I’m a stronger, better me. All because a cat appeared on my doorstep and showed me how to live.