Familiar acts are beautiful through love.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
When I read this quote I find comfort. Shelley’s words remind me that it is not in the grand gestures, but in the simple everyday routines where beauty and love can be found. Acts of kindness, of giving and sharing, of listening and playing: these are the ways we show love everyday. And, if we pay attention, the way, also, we find it.
Every morning, for as long as I can remember, our dear feline friend, Charcoal, has waited outside the bedroom door to greet my husband and me. I always bend down to pet him gently. “Good morning,” I greet him, and he makes his tour of the room, sniffing and stretching and rubbing his face against familiar places. I invite him to come downstairs with me. I say, “Let’s go get you some breakfast!” Of course, no matter how much of a head start I get, Charcoal always beats me to the bottom. We are buddies, and this has been our routine, a reliable part of our day.
About a month ago, we discovered that Charcoal was in the late stages of kidney disease. We had been noticing that he was losing weight and that his appetite had changed, but we really had no idea he was that sick until we took him to the vet. Unfortunately, kidney disease is common in cats and there is no cure. Saddened, my husband, daughter and I decided that the best we could do for Charcoal would be to encourage him to eat and drink, and to give him lots of TLC as his illness would progress. We wanted to do so much more, but Charcoal was very sick and there was nothing more we could do. It was out of our control. We were able to enjoy and care for Charcoal for these last few weeks until he passed away on Friday. He fought a good fight.
As all pets are, Charcoal was a member of our family. He was my kitchen companion, helping me cook or put dishes into the dishwasher. I know that sounds funny, but his company was a warm reminder that I was not alone as I carried out my tasks. I would talk with him, and he would respond with his eyes and his distinctive voice. Sometimes he stood atop the refrigerator, towering over me, only to meet my forehead with his for an affectionate head bump. Or he would communicate his desire for a little milk by “licking his lips”. He knew that I knew what he wanted. We understood each other. In the evenings he would take turns sitting on our laps, enjoying a little massage or snooze. Often, he would position himself into the crook of my right arm, to be cradled like an infant with his free arm outstretched to hold my chest. In those moments, he was my baby.
We had lots of funny moments with Charcoal, too, like the time when I was standing at the top of the stairs, calling out to my husband below. “HON-NEY!” Before my husband could respond, Charcoal had charged up the steps like the cavalry coming to my rescue. What a loyal cat! He had heard my voice and had come running.
Then there was the infamous Cheese Ball Incident. On New Year’s Eve, my husband, my daughter, and I were watching a movie together and enjoying some party snacks. Nothing fancy. A little veggie tray, some fruit, cheese and crackers, and wine. The movie was a delightful comedy, that concluded with a musical scene, in which the characters were singing and dancing Bollywood-style. It was a fun scene and the three of us got caught up in it. We were dancing our best Indian dances, having a good laugh at ourselves, never noticing how Charcoal was taking advantage of our silliness by getting a good taste of the cheese ball. Of course we couldn’t be too angry – after all, it was a New Year’s Eve party!
In the days since his passing, I find myself visualizing Charcoal as I go about my usual routines. I can see his actions, and picture where he would be sitting or stretching. I can see his expressive green eyes looking into mine. I feel both comforted and melancholic as I imagine Charcoal at my side. He was such an integral part of my day, and had a meaningful impact on my life. I miss him so much.
Charcoal brought our family a lot of joy, and his presence taught me important lessons, like to be more patient and observant. Being with him also reminded me to be gentle and nurturing, and to appreciate innocence. I apply the lessons Charcoal taught me especially when I am with children. Like him, they possess an innocent nature, and they, too, respond positively with patience and understanding, and gentle nurturing. I know that I am a better person, in every way, for having known Charcoal. Our interactions may have seemed like daily routine, but they were more than that to me. They were meaningful. In these familiar acts, I found both beauty and love.