Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cats and Kindness

Cat story No 1

Meet Sol. He's our neighbours from across the street's cat. It's Christmas morning. He's not looking too happy in this photograph because I have shamed him by insisting that he wore the very cute, pink, Christmas bow. He mostly just wants this photo opportunity to be over so that he can go back to doing what he does best which is simply being a very cool cat.

Sol kind of adopted us almost 5 years ago now.  I first saw him casually strolling up our garden path one day. The next door neighbour's cat was also in our garden and had come over all territorial; hissing and spitting for all that she was worth. Sol's response was to throw her an over the shoulder look that said Really?...Calm yourself...and he just kept on walking. The other cat skulked away on her belly, somewhat embarrassed by her crass display. I smiled at his cool...

He became a regular in our garden and made his way into the house. We bought him biscuits...and then a bowl...and then a bed. We fed him when his people went on holiday. I loved him...Rick came to love him.

He is the easiest cat to get along with. A lovely sweet temperament. 
Likes to be handled...will even let you rub his belly...he doesn't bite or scratch or do that rabbit kick-thing that cats do. 

He sits on my lap. In the winter he comes in to sleep for the night and will snuggle up real close under your chin with one paw slung across your neck as if to cuddle closer. 

When I was sick he was my constant companion at the bottom of the bed, coming up every now and again to bump heads with me and offer a reassuring little miaow...his presence was a balm to me.

A few years ago he disappeared for over a week. The street was in mourning. He was all we talked about. We were happy when he was found and returned to us.

Not so long ago his family moved to the next street. I was devastated to think that he might not find his way back here. He did, but his visits were less regular and they felt more like he was fitting us in or had just got hungry on the way to his next sleeping spot. Gradually he developed a new routine. Sometime between 5 and 6 am he would appear on our front doorstep. He'd come in...have some breakfast and then, depending on what was happening he'd either spend half an hour snoring on my lap before Silver Chain arrived or he would find a spot on the sofa in the front room and settle down there for a nap. He'd head off on some adventures, maybe calling back around teatime...another snack, another snooze and then he's disappear for a while until around 9.30pm when a bite of supper was called for and,  because it's summer and the garden holds more reasons to be curious then a cat can bear, he'd head out on the prowl until the morning.

The neighbourhood bush telegraph was hard at work...have you seen Sol? Is he OK? Where and when did you see him last? 

His family missed him terribly. Everyone worried about him. We all reassured his family that we'd make sure he was OK. And we have. He's in good form. He's being fed. He's being loved. He's OK.

He's had another big change in his life. His family now have a dog and on the first night of meeting the dog he arrived at our house...all theatrical, throwing himself around, talking ten to the dozen, milking the situation and all the sympathy from us as much as he could. Funny old cat. Poor wee Sol.

I love Sol. He isn't my cat. I have no responsibility for him. But I love Sol (and I like to believe that he loves me best of all the neighbours) but if he doesn't, that's OK because I like cats but I love Sol and I'll do whatever it takes to look out for him.

And anyway...he's my way to ease in to...

Cat Story No 2

Through my friend Julie Barclay's Facebook page I read a little cat story earlier in the week which really warmed my heart and set me thinking. Here's the link to it...

I loved the idea of kids reading to the cats and the mutual benefit there is for the cats and the children. The photographs that accompany the story are so lovely...and the kindness behind the idea...the understanding that the shelter is a stressful, difficult place for the cats to be and that, as they wait for adoption, it would be A. Good. Thing. to soothe and comfort them...well, I was really moved by that.

I also had a bit of a knee jerk response. My high horse is never too far away and I did my preachy thing on Facebook...'compare and contrast the treatment of people in the locked wards of our psychiatric hospitals...'
Heather Simmons - no point left unmade. Indignation is Us.

As the week has gone on, I have pondered my response and gone back a few times to the story. And I KNOW that it is such an obvious thing to say but I think that there is value in the call to consider what we do for those in our human family who are most distressed. The wards are bleak, soulless, tortured, painful places. And when your heart and soul and mind are sick or spinning wildly it is difficult to know how such an environment helps restore a sense of well being or some equilibrium. Not much happens in them that would be considered kind. There certainly isn't any kindness built into the system. 

When I had my sojourn in a psychiatric hospital I used to wish that someone would come and sit with me until I fell asleep at night. Just the kind presence of someone to see the end of the day with me and maybe somehow help fill the night with hopes for a better day the next day. I never ever felt like I could ask for it. It seemed at the the same time so trivial and yet so huge. But I think that, like the children reading to the cats, it would have soothed me.

There's not much that soothes on a psychiatric ward in the public health care system. More that angers and provokes. And really, I could go on about the system and the staff. I could lay blame and point fingers and express outrage. But I can't get rid of the question that holds a mirror up to me, inviting me to take a look at myself and face the question...what am I doing? How do I help?

Mental Health Matters 2 auspice a group called Families 4 Families. If any group of people understand the urgent need for us to find a way to weave kindness into the work it is this group of people. For the most part, members of each family represented experience what they describe as the 'pointy end' of mental health services. They know real distress  At the times when what would be most soothing would be practical action and helpful 'help' they engage with and endure a system that is in general, intransigent, rigid and cold. They have stories to tell that shame us all. It was their 4th birthday earlier this week and, as part of their celebrations they hosted a discussion evening on Creating and Strengthening a Culture of Kindness in Mental Health. I was so sorry to miss it. And in the light of this blog I feel shamed that it was not a priority for me.

So...where am I going with these stories and thoughts? Nothing subtle about it...

Our whole street looks out for Sol...even the people who don't like cats very much are fond of him. We feed him. He hangs out in our gardens...on our our cars...on our beds. And we smile and laugh and say sweet little nothings to him.

We read to cats because we believe it soothes them and it's a good way for the children to practice their reading. Can I just say that again...

We. Read. To. Cats. Because. It. Soothes. Them.

We take our husbands, wives, significant others, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, the time when they are most distressed...we frequently control them by drugging them until they are unable to walk or talk or stay awake and we put them in austere,  soul-less places where they have to fight over chairs, where they are observed through toughened glass and practically ignored until it's time for more drugs. We lock them in and expect frightened families to have meaningful visits in small rooms with no windows and a panic button. We don't let them smoke and we worry about how much caffeine they take. Nothing hangs on the wall or beautifies the environment. The food

There's a song that I just can't get out of my head. It's called 'Hands' and it talks a bit about doing what you can do.I've included the link to the song...

I wish I knew what to do. How to be balm. If anyone has any ideas then I would be glad to hear them.

We read to cats because it soothes them.

Everyone in that system could do with having someone read them a story.

' the end, only kindness matters...'