The Starving Tom Cat Outside Our Building
We have a starving tom cat outside of our building on this rainy day. His coat is still healthy, but we can see his hip bones and spine stick out of his fur while his sides near his back legs are sunken. He came running up to us as we were approaching our stairwell door. We didn’t have any food to give him, but we went to our apartment and brought down a packet of food our cat won’t eat. We think the problem might be that he was a house cat for someone, so he hasn’t learned to fend for himself. We can’t take him because our apartment can only handle one cat, and we’ll be moving internationally. Our feeding him is only a stop gap measure. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be gone, and he’ll be starving again. Now, put yourself in our position and ask yourself how you would feel.
It’s Just a Cat
I know there are some people who would say, “It’s just a cat. It’ll figure out how to feed itself, or it will die. It’s none of my concern. Survival of the fittest.” They might rationalize their behavior by saying they don’t have the budget to feed another mouth. However, people who say this, generally believe that animals are lower lifeforms. They aren’t worth spending the empathy or sympathy on, which they would claim, is better saved for people — as if empathy, sympathy, and kindness were in limited supply. If you are one of these people, it’s okay.
We all have our “It’s just a…” level. For some, it’s cats, but it can also be dogs, chickens, cows, rats, spiders, mosquitoes, frogs, wild horses, opossums… usually, it’s more difficult to have empathy or sympathy for ugly creatures. People draw a line somewhere about which animal it’s okay not to care about. Unfortunately, unscrupulous and dangerous organizations, their leaders, and their propaganda turn people, who are different from you, into lower lifeforms — “They’re animals; they’re thugs.” — which allows you to then not have empathy or sympathy for those people targeted.
What Can I Do?
Some people see a starving cat and feel bad, but what can one person do? He can’t feed all the starving cats. Even if she feeds this kitty once, she won’t be able to feed it again or feed it for the rest of its life. Beyond starving cats, there are starving dogs and starving people to care about. The enormity of the problem overwhelms the senses and creates an inability to act, so the person does nothing.
Oh, Poor Kitty
There are some who will go overboard. They’ll take the cat in, find it a home, take it to a shelter, feed it, get it neutered and dewormed, the whole nine yards. They might even go into to debt for the kitty. They feel a natural empathy for cats, and they feel bad when they see cats in trouble or pain. The crazy cat lady might be crazy, lonely, or just deeply empathetic. As long as she can afford it, there’s no problem.
Which Are You?
There are a whole set of responses on this spectrum that I haven’t included. You can imagine them for yourself — from the extremely evil to the beyond good. However, there are two things I want you to try. Once again: How would you feel if you were the person coming home to the starving cat on the doorstep? What would you do? Two: How would you feel if you were the starving cat, kicked out of your home, with no prospect for food, just hoping that someone will be kind enough to drop you something to eat? How would you feel if someone showed you a degree of kindness and brought you inside out of the rain? How would you feel if someone recognized that you’re worthy of life, regardless of your personal circumstances?
Matters of the Heart and Imagination
If you’re having a hard time imagining yourself in our position or in the cat’s position, it’s okay. You can work on improving your imagination, your empathy, and your sympathy by reading fiction books, especially those that are kind in and of themselves. “Winnie the Pooh,” “Anne of Avonlea” and “Anne of Green Gables,” and Manny Trembley’s “Victoria Jr.” series are where I would start for kind reading. If you want a TV series that can help you improve your empathy, look no further than “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”
The Anger We Feel
Your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is the first step toward becoming more understanding and more caring. We spend too much of our time waiting to respond, trying to force our opinion to be right, and attempting to fit in a certain political or religious mold. Instead, we need to spend more of our time trying to be kind, trying to be giving, and trying to love others as we love ourselves. That means loving ourselves, too, even when we fail to live up to what we think of as being human. This will help alleviate feelings of anger and resentment and replace those feelings with more happiness and love.
Nothing in Return
As we explore the kinder sides of ourselves and give more, our anger will dissipate, but only if we can do so expecting nothing in return. Your personal journey on this Earth isn’t about how others treat you or what you get from others; instead, it’s about how you treat people and what you give. That starving kitty on our doorstep isn’t going to give us anything. He may let us pet him. He may eat our food, but we don’t expect him to bring us a mouse or a bird. (I hope he doesn’t.) The only thing we can hope is that he will find someone in a better position to take care of him than we are, or that he finds his way back to his original family. Oh, and to provide what we are able while we are able to do so.
Still, when I hear him crying out, I feel sad that I can’t do more; when I am feeding him, even just for the day, I feel like I have brought some good into the world rather than just ignored the pleas for help.
The Power of One
There’s the story of the boy who was walking along a beach where there were thousands of starfish stranded on the shore. He picked on up and threw it into the ocean. He picked up another and threw it into the ocean. He picked up a third and threw it into the ocean. He continued to do this until a man approached him and said, “Son, what are you doing?”
“I’m throwing the starfish back into the ocean so they can live.”
“But look at all the starfish on this beach. There are thousands of them. You can’t make a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up a starfish, and threw it into the ocean. “I made a difference for that one.” (This story “Star Thrower” was originally written by Loren Eiseley. I have paraphrased it.)
By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. If we look after the details and do what we can, we will be able to make the world a better place. More importantly, by choosing to work for the good of others, we will be making our own internal world better. We will open ourselves to love and release the anger we feel inside. We’ll also allow others to do the same.