Mew’ve got a friend in me

Cats are infamous for their aloof behavior. They are more than happy to spend their days sunbathing in solitude. More often than not, attention offends them more than pleases them. They shy away from strangers, not out of fear but merely because they have very little to gain from one more hand mussing their fur. They are easily smothered and do not require constant companionship.

We are not cats.

Humans need friends. We need someone to hold our hand, to tell our secrets to, to laugh with, to hug, to bore with complaints and fascinate with daily anecdotes. We are social creatures. We thrive on interactions with others like us, and simply put, we can not function alone. Refer to any of the countless studies conducted on inmates who lose their will to live in solitary confinement, prisoners of war who claim isolation is as great a torture as any, or infants whose basic needs are met, save for human contact, yet never age past a few months. We don’t fare well without each other.

I recently began volunteering at a pet store, helping clean the cats’ litter boxes and living quarters while giving them a little lovin’. Generally we’ll have six to eight kitties at a time, each with their own unique personality. Elroy is soft spoken and sullen, but he’s the most affectionate old man. He’ll wrap himself around my neck while I go about my business, tiptoeing around the mischievous Smudgepot, a charming calico who took her time warming up to me. Alma, a striking and shy young lady, is to be let out before all the others so she can hurry over to her roost in the corner and stay out of the way when I pull out the laser pointer and things get a little crazy. I do my best to make these kitties’ lives as enjoyable as I possibly can, given the circumstances, but I also feel as if I’ve got another job on top of all the kitty maintenance I do.

I am more like an auntie than a mother to these kitties; I come around every once in awhile, spoil them, then I leave. Sometimes it’s hard to tear myself away from them, but I have homework and NetFlix and a puppy at home, so I’m not devastated when it’s time to go. Only one woman has earned the title of ‘Mom,’ and her name, for the sake of her privacy, is Janis. This woman loves her cats. The first night I worked with her, I asked her how many cats she had at home. She replied, serious as could be, “Fifteen.” I didn’t ask many more questions after that point.

Communicating with Janis was difficult at first. She had a tendency to launch into 20 minute monologues about how successful her nephews are, or all the places her son has traveled. Her absolute favorite stories to tell were stories of failed adoptions — I think she gained a grim sense of satisfaction from telling people no. She insisted that she was always looking out for the best interest of the individual cat, which, as far as I know, was probably true. Based on the personalities I had already witnessed, I knew each cat had different needs and required different living conditions. Some cats must be an ‘only,’ with no other cats or dogs in the household. Some cats are only bothered by dogs, and some are brave enough to handle anything. I understand and respect that. What I didn’t understand, however, was why she seemed to have a sense of pride about her when recalling her adoption refusals when her primary goal was to get her kitties adopted.

I enjoy showing the cats I hang out with to the people I hang out with. Every once in awhile, I’ll bring a friend by the store and we’ll pet and play with the kitties as much as the bars of their cages will allow. Each time, until recently, however, I would make sure that Janis was nowhere to be found. Some days I just didn’t feel like getting roped into a conversation with her. They generally had some negative undertone to them which was sometimes hard to respond to. Yes, her nephews were excellent pianists, but they also became snobby with their success. Yes, her son had many opportunities to travel when he was younger, but he would have had many more had they lived in a better area. Yes, fifteen loving couples came in to try to adopt the same cat, but none of them were perfect. Each story she told put an added weight on my mind and my heart. Sometimes I wish she was as content to work in silence as I am, because listening to her speak was such a burden.

And I actually thought that for a while. I would avoid any interaction with the woman if it meant I didn’t have to hear another happy tale marinated in negativity. How DARE she make me feel a little bit down for a few seconds? How DARE she ruin my mood on a perfectly good day? How DARE she turn such harmless happenstances into complaint-worthy tragedies?

But how dare I refuse to be her confidant, how dare I turn down her attempts at friendship. The woman is divorced and has fifteen cats at home, for God’s sake. Can’t I be patient and kind for two hours every other week? Of course I can, and not because of the short time I’d have to spend doing it, but because she is a human being and she deserves to be treated kindly. Plain and simple. Who knows what her life is like when she goes home at night to her own kitties? It may be joyous or perhaps miserable for her. I may be the only person she has to talk to, or I may be one of many. It doesn’t matter. My job is to make the two hours I spend with her as pleasant as possible. If that means listening to endless stories and musings, then so be it. Who am I to complain?

This doesn’t just apply to Janis, either. We interact with so many unique people every single day: our best friends, parents, classmates, teachers, and complete strangers. We may like these people.. or we may not care for them so much. But the fact of the matter is, every single interaction we share has the potential to be very special. You never know what goes on in someone’s home seconds before they hop on the bus to go to school, or seconds after they return inside their house. All we know is what we see. Then again, what exactly do we see? Someone may be carrying a substantial amount of pain inside that they conceal behind a happy face.

We think we have the right to discern between who is worthy of our attention and kindness, but here’s an idea: maybe everyone is. Maybe just being human is qualification enough for being treated fairly. On the most basic level, we are all equals. Toss out appearances, intellect, social skills, and income. You are no better than anyone else; we are all only human. Why, then, do we feel that we have the right to pick and choose who we “get along” with? Life is the essence of “getting along,” and we all do it together, every single one of us. We are in no position to withhold kindness from anyone when we expect it from everyone.

So give it up. It’s nothing so precious that your supply will run dry if you don’t use conservatively. Kindness is infinite, and the coolest part is, it multiplies. But you shouldn’t just do it because it’s your duty or your obligation, you should do it because human interaction is one of the most enriching parts of the human experience. In the 2009 film “Up in the Air,” loner George Clooney muses, “If you think about it… your favorite memories, the most important moments in your life. Were you alone?”

You weren’t, were you? You are not too good to be a friend to anyone.



You can start by being my friend. Email me at [email protected], or tweet at @sweeeeeens. Thanks for reading!