A couple of months ago, a stray cat I’d never seen before strolled onto my porch, hopped up in a chair, and glared at me sternly. The cat was white with a scattering of black spots. It was clean and seemed healthy but had no tag or collar. After a few minutes the cat jumped down, descended the stairs, and wandered across the driveway where it disappeared under a tangle of bushes. The next day the cat reappeared and took its position on the chair across from me. We looked at one another for a while and then the cat left as abruptly as it had appeared. This phenomenon occurred daily for the next week. I didn’t feed the cat or pet it, but every day it would show up, climb in the chair, and then stare at me as if I owed it money.
I’ve never been an animal lover. In fact I have spent most of my life avoiding animals at all costs. Animals have teeth, and they bite people. And cats have teeth as well as claws, which means they could do a lot of damage. And even if they’re harmless, cats just aren’t that inspiring to be around. At least a dog is happy to see you when you walk in, wagging its tail and jumping for joy even if you’ve just shuffled down to the mailbox and back. Return home from a three-year stint in prison, and a cat will just sneer at you with a look that says “Oh, you’re back? I hadn’t realize you’d left.” Cats are aloof and moody. They’re apathetic and lazy, and seem to suffer from delusions of grandeur. Cats and I have too much in common. The relationship would be doomed from the start.
During the second week of the cat’s daily visits, I found myself in the pet food aisle of the grocery store. I stared at the choices and shook my head, wondering what I had become. I selected a cheap bag of dry food, and when I brought it to the checkout line the woman behind the register said, “Ohhh, what kind of cat do you have?” I gave her the same look the cat had been giving me for the past few days then responded: “I don’t have a cat, I have an intermittent squatter.”
Now, four months later, the cat is living on my porch full time. I’ve named it Cat, and although I feed it daily I have yet to touch it. It still stares at me more often than I feel is appropriate, but at least it doesn’t try to climb in my lap or instigate some type of petting ritual. We share the porch in a sort of armed truce. But I can’t help but wonder where this cat came from and why it appeared. Perhaps it showed up to teach me a lesson: that even selfish curmudgeons have a tiny bit of compassion hidden somewhere deep inside them. Or that despite my years of fear and remonstrations, I actually do have a fondness for animals. Or maybe the cat is here to teach me that caring for a living creature can nurture my soul and expand my capacity for tenderness and grace. Or, maybe, it’s just hungry.