Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hello, Goodbye

"Hello," I say as I greet Sirius, the latest Calliope cat. But as I lean down to stroke his upturned face, another word flashes through my mind. "Goodbye."

Like Starlight, Sirius is FIV positive. But his story is a happier one. He was rescued before life on the streets drained too much of his strength; his health is good. As proof, I need only catch the sight of his round belly swinging ever so slightly as he runs over to greet me. He shows every sign of living up to his name as the brightest star in the night sky. "I have many years ahead," his shining eyes communicate. "Now feed me!"

As Sirius and I cuddle on the couch, again I think of Starlight. But my thoughts are no longer sad ones. They do not whisper to me about the past; they navigate around what could have been. They speak instead about the future: a future working with other passionate rescuers, opening up my heart to animals that need me, and making peace with the knowledge that in every hello lives a goodbye.

I will someday say goodbye to Sirius too. Mixed with my excitement over his finding his forever home will be the same pocket of sadness that accompanies all goodbyes. I'll shuffle around his empty room feeling slightly lost and disoriented. I'll want to call his new family an hour after he's left to ask how he's adjusting. I'll remember other beloved people or animals I've said goodbye to, perhaps railing against the unfairness of not being able to control when or how those goodbyes unfolded. And I'll have an hour or two when I decide that hellos are not worth the goodbyes. Opening up my heart knowing that loss will follow is for fools, I'll convince myself.

Soon after that, another animal will need me. The cycle will repeat. I will become a fool filled with joy and purpose who knows that the antidote for goodbye sickness is a new hello.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's in a name?

Starlight is a Calliope Cat.

But Starlight is gone now, his suffering over. "Starlight was, but is no more." Wouldn't this be more correct, then? Your sixth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Stickler, would probably say yes. "Present tense is used to describe actions or events that are occurring now," you recall her droning, as Billy O'Sullivan did impersonations from the back row.

Rules may guide grammarians, but they often blur or disappear altogether for those of us rescuing homeless animals. Rarely do we have time for rigid rules or fancy protocols or preconceived notions about the future when a cat like Starlight comes to our attention. A declawed senior who eventually tested positive for FIV, Starlight was dumped just as winter was setting in. With coyotes active at night, a terrified and ill Starlight made his way to a nearby home, where a loving person cared for him until Calliope Rescue could foster him.

Starlight spent the last three weeks of his life warm and safe and loved. He ate what he could, rolled over for tummy rubs, and purred at the gentle strokes his now-relaxed face received from his foster mom. They napped together in the afternoons and snuggled every evening while she read the newspaper. Every small gesture he made while in her company signaled his gratitude. And when he was ready to leave what he believed was his forever home, he stopped eating. Although it broke the heart of every rescuer who had met him, we all knew he trusted us enough to understand what to do next.

Starlight's story is the story of every homeless animal who suffers and every rescuer who tries to help. He teaches us many things, even now.

Starlight is a Calliope Cat.