I HAVE A cat that is now around 19 years old. She was a rescue in a very literal sense. I found her in the center lane of a three-lane highway dodging traffic. I rescued her and named her Lucky. It seemed fitting. As her life is winding down, I keep looking at what she and I have learned over the 17 years we’ve been together. I realize that she has taught me some profound life lessons, some of which I am only now seeing clearly.
When she was a younger cat, Lucky experienced post-traumatic stress from the highway incident and from her year or two living out on her own. She spent the majority of her time with me hiding in a closet. She came out when no one but me was around, and then she was full of joy and fun. That lasted until something scared her — a noise, sudden movement — then she was back in the closet. She could go from joy to fear in a heartbeat and go back to joy just as quickly. I often thought I should learn that from her and did my best to always go back to the joy as soon as possible.
A curious thing has happened in her advanced years. Unlike people, who usually let their pain, fear and trauma build up over the years, she seems to have completely forgotten hers. After all that time of being afraid of nearly everything, she now seems to be completely fearless. She greets people at the door, asks for a lap and some petting and only has love in her eyes. She doesn’t seem to be bothered by much at all. She just goes about her day, eating, sleeping and getting cuddled. That’s it.
Lucky no longer carries her baggage of pain and fear. It’s been a joke that she has Meowzheimers and has simply forgotten to be afraid. It got me thinking about my own life — my past difficulties and pain — and how I often let that dictate how I move through the world. We all tend to gather the insults, sadness, difficulties and pain from our past and use it as our main identity in the present.
How often do you ever hear people talk about the wonderful things in their past that lifted them up and showed them a beautiful picture of themselves? Most of the time people will talk about the loves they lost, how they were betrayed, what a difficult time they had and how that makes things so hard now. We all do it to some degree. We stop ourselves from moving into our future because of fear from our past.
The picture in my mind is that we have two pieces of luggage to carry: one with the pain, disappointments and hardships, and one with the joys, love and happiness. Most people’s pain bag is much larger and heavier than their joy bag — that is, if they even carry their joys with them. Many people seem to put it down so they can have two hands to carry all their pain. Why do we do that?
It also spills over to a more global issue. With all the suffering in the world, how do we hold onto our joys when we see others in such pain? Our tendency is to see someone in pain and then promptly dig into our bags and pull out our own to show them and compare. It’s like we think it’s somehow disrespectful to help joy and love come through when someone is hurting. What would happen if we all just forgot our painful stories? What if we all got a case of Meowzheimers and only remembered to love? What would we be capable of if we forgot to be afraid?
I’ve been meditating on this for a while now and I am challenging myself to really learn this lesson. I think that not only will I have done Lucky proud if I do this, but my life will transform into something really beautiful. Maybe you want to try that challenge, too. Just put the pain bag down.