Photo credit: Marion Peck
"Patience is not learned in safety. It is not learned when everything is harmonious and going well. When everything is smooth sailing, who needs patience? If you stay in your room with the door locked and the curtains drawn, everything may seem harmonious, but the minute anything doesn't go your way, you blow up. There is no cultivation of patience when your pattern is just to try to seek harmony and smooth everything out."--Pema Chodron, from The Pocket Pema Chodron
I woke up early this morning, much too early for a Sunday. I think it was 4:30AM. I stumbled to the bathroom, and on my way down the hall, I felt something gritty under my feet. It felt like cat litter, so I assumed it was one of the cats kicking off some litter that had stuck to her paw. I went in the living room to read and inevitably fall asleep on the futon like I always do. More grit. The room was dark so I still thought I was stepping on scattered litter. But if this was litter, the cats must have staged an overnight revolt, dumping the entire content of their litter box upside down in protest. Had we failed to clean the box thoroughly?
I didn't want to turn on the light for fear of what I'd find. When I did, I was surprised to see tiny lentils scattered everywhere I looked. Then I spotted it. The torn plastic bag we had just bought yesterday at an Indian speciality food shop. It was gnawed open, the front of the bag a gaping maw. The bag itself was completely empty, save for one or two lentils clinging to the inside.
I know there are worse things that could happen. Parents all over the world are cleaning up after their sick children. Sanitation workers are collecting piles of garbage left over from raucous house parties on Fraternity Row. As I write this, many people are doing many dirty jobs.
But why did our kitten choose to maul a 2-pound bag of lentils while we were sleeping? And not just 2 pounds of ordinary lentils but baby lentils, lentils as small as benign moles? How did she even get the bag off the counter in the first place?
I couldn't yell at her or spray her with the water bottle we keep around for disciplinary purposes because I didn't actually catch her in the act. So I just breathed in, breathed out, and went looking for a broom. A vacuum would be more ideal for this job, but I didn't want to wake my husband. He adores Joey Thumbs and she adores him, but he would not be pleased to see the late-night havoc his beloved pet had wrought.
I could only find a small broom and dustpan. I got on my knees and started sweeping up the impossibly tiny pebbles. It was like trying to sweep a beach of its sand, a
As I swept the lentils into small piles, I thought about yesterday, and how Mike and I were having breakfast and amusing ourselves watching Joey climb onto the small white bookshelf where I keep my cookbooks, stretching her long, lean body to peer over at the bags of croutons and sliced almonds we keep on a small cart. She would select a bag, grab it between her teeth, then jump down and carry it into the living room and under the coffee table. Apparently that's her lair, where bags of croutons go to die.
Of course we always grabbed the bag out of her mouth before she could actually do anything. But what had been cute yesterday was now a colossal mess, not to mention a waste of good lentils. I felt the grit everywhere I walked. I had a feeling that, like pine needles in July, I'd be finding lentils in unexpected places for years to come.
But what could I do about it but go about the task of cleaning up, or waiting for Mike to wake up so I could move things along with his ancient but powerful vacuum? Getting upset about it would only make me feel worse. She was a cat, so therefore I wouldn't have the satisfaction of sitting her down and lecturing her about messes and waste. There was, however, a possible lesson in this for me, something about cultivating patience. My lesson was to not get mad and throw the kitten and her toys out onto the street. Beat it, kid. Scram.
Right now Joey is sitting on my lap, warming my legs like a furry heating pad. She's purring. It's like she's doing it on purpose--she's saying, I know I pee in inappropriate places, eat the leaves off Mike's peace lily plant, jump on your counters and snatch bags of legumes to toss around the apartment like confetti. But look how adorable I am when I wrap myself in a ball!
Only Joey Thumbs, toddlers, and really good-looking people have this power to make you forgive and forget.