I met the little brown tabby cat when interviewing for a position at a local vet clinic. I was desperate – having left a corporate job for mellower pastures and facing the reality of a limited job market ripe with age discrimination, I was willing to take anything. I’m sure desperation read on my face as clearly as jaundice on a malaria victim.
Then here was this little bundle of energy. He crossed the room to greet me as smoothly as a three-year-old with cerebral palsy. Raphael was the offspring of a mama with distemper and his brain damage was severe. But hell, he didn’t know, nor did he care. He stumbled as enthusiastically as he could, eyes wide with joy, ready to give all the warmth and compassion his little soul could. He was happy and he wanted to show it.
Such zest! He loved to be loved and loved to show it in return. A purr as big as thunder, he’d pull himself further up on my shoulder, banging his ear against mine as if to say “I’m King Cat of the Second Floor today.” It seemed he felt physically secure when nestled in my neck and had I not been on the time clock I’d have stayed with him all day long, holding, noodling, talking to him, letting his deep rumble imbue my heart with invisible security and calm in return.
I found after time that I needed to be very gentle setting him down because as soon as he was on his four feet, he’d fall over. I’d make certain I didn’t place him near a piece of furniture or a cupboard that he could bang into and I would gently brace him as he collapsed on his side, still purring, still blissful from the attention.
Rafe liked a little bowl of milk from time to time and it usually took him three or four clunks of his nose in the shallow white pool to determine the relative distance between his nose and the milk before he could lap it up. He’d spread his front legs like a giraffe over a pool of water to give himself better but still shaky balance. He never gave up, though, intent on lapping up his treats, reaping the joy of every moment, the pleasure of every scritch.
The lesson? For me, hurting and submissive, that my issues really aren’t so bad in the face of what we socially correct call a physical challenge. That no matter how broken we are physically, emotionally, or spiritually, there is some sort of hope, some kind of joy, some glimpse of happiness and love to be found.
And its name will forevermore be Raphael.
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