Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lessons in Gratitude, by Jane Danner Sustar, LifeWays Caregiver

David came to us on a Saturday morning in the middle of September. He had been left by neighbors, who had moved to Iowa. He was an apartment cat and in the terror of moving had slipped out of the back door and taken refuge underneath the front porch. He refused to come out and so our neighbors had left. What else could they do? That had been in August. Now he was cold and he was desperate.

Mark and I were walking the dogs; Cody, an elderly gentleman of medium size and Sabyra, a feisty pit bull. Our black cat likes to make sure we are behaving ourselves and so she often accompanies us on our morning and evening walks. David walked right up to the lot of us, meowed once and collapsed at our feet. He weighed in at a whopping four pounds and was severely dehydrated. He was so malnourished he had forgotten how to eat and we spent the next three weeks smearing cat food on his face. Whatever he licked off was his meal. We tried everything to coax him to eat; Science Diet, Iams, Fromm, Natural Pet. He wouldn’t touch any of it. Finally, Walgreens had Friskies cat food on sale, what I like to call the McDonalds of cat food brands. I opened the can. David unfurled his face from behind his tail, picked his head up off the bed and sniffed a long deep grateful sniff. He collapsed off the bed in a single bound, staggered over to the bowl and ate like a pig. Now that he isn’t a bag of bones, he is quite the handsome cat, but odd. Unlike our other cats, who are privileged, David is grateful.

Gratitude is an odd thing in a cat. It goes against their nature. David knows he is supposed to be too proud to be grateful but I will catch him looking at me and I know he is smiling under his serious cat face. I know he is smiling, because I recognize him in me. I know that I am supposed to be teaching the children about gratitude. Like David, I am a fake. I haven’t a clue. Not like the children do. Before I worked at Lifeways, it had been years since I had last looked at a daddy long legs or listened to a woodpecker or clapped my hands with the first snow! Splashed in puddles? Oozed mud in my toes? Sat and just watched a duck sit on a rock? Climbed a tree? Watched a roly poly furl and unfurl it’s body? Carried a rock in my pocket? YEARS! But to Orion and Natalie and Otto and Amitai and Ava the world is an amazing and mystical place. Gaston and Rebeka and Anikka and Zoey and Leo think a log decomposing is really really cool and that a rock is something valuable and important. There is nothing that I can teach your children about gratitude. What I hope to do is expand it and expound it, feed it and foster it with a hearty resounding “Yes!” And to thank them daily for the eyes they see with. The world truly is a mystical and mysterious place!

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