I created a video for this post with a musical backdrop and images to inspire you. You can read the text below:
Recently I wrote a post about dealing with the noise, busyness and general chaos of the Christmas season. Our involvement in the many worthwhile activities of decorating, cooking, entertaining, party-hopping, buying and wrapping gifts, sending cards, volunteering our time and treasure to charities, and spending time with our families can make our heads spin. I proposed that a renewed focus on the season of Advent, with its call to simplicity and quiet, would make a wonderful antidote.
A reader responded with an unexpected comment: “I have the opposite problem. I would love a bit of noise and chaos at Christmas.” Jay described her situation of caring for a homebound mother and a disabled husband, with other family members living too far away to visit. Suddenly my assumption that a quiet Christmas was best for everyone felt arbitrary. “Quiet” can assume many forms, including loneliness and isolation.
I immediately wrote back to Jay, attempting to offer some consolation; I wanted to do something to mitigate her circumstance. In the writing I realized that I too understood the ramifications of a Christmas “gone quiet.” My own family circle has grown noticeably smaller over the years with my parents gone and my sister, brother-in-law and nephews scattered across the country. Although the circumstances were different, Jay and I ended up sharing a common problem.
Jay responded to my letter, opening up about her situation. Because of her husband’s disability, it is nearly impossible for them to visit friends. In fact, in order to see her mother on Christmas day, she has to leave him behind. She waxed nostalgic on the past, writing, “we had such a lovely time with the cousins and aunts and uncles when I was a child, and when we lived closer by.” She wrote of longing to help others, of getting a tree only to leave it unadorned and of the futility of buying gifts when no one really needed anything. She gently berated herself in her longing for Christmases past full of Santa Claus, gifts and overeating; as a teacher in the Methodist church she is keenly aware of the true meaning of the day.
However, as we continued to write back and forth, I noticed her mood quickly shifting from laments to gratitude. Jay began recounting her blessings, most notably the love she has for her husband and mother. I could feel the warmth of that love coming across the Atlantic from her home in Ipswich, England to mine in North Grafton, Massachusetts. It was then that I began to understand the power behind listening.
I had entered into the correspondence assuming my usual role of problem solver; I was going to make everything better! It soon became clear however that I was meant to be a friend; to listen to and acknowledge another person’s life story. It was not about me solving a problem and looking like a hero; it was about Jay needing someone to be fully present, listening with mind and heart. Paying attention to her life rather than mine required humility.
Yet, once I surrendered to the idea, I could see God’s grace unfolding. The focus of our letters changed from melancholic remembrances to gratitude for the blessings we both enjoy. Gratitude fueled action with Jay vowing to get into the spirit by attending a couple of get-together lunches and taking in a local concert of carols presented by her town’s brass band. I, in turn, volunteered to join a band of Christmas carolers in our parish, and inquired about taking communion to nursing home residents. Jay and I are exchanging gifts through the mail. Listening has turned strangers into friends.
Our correspondences caused me to examine myself: why do I insist on giving people what I would not want for myself? When I share my heart with someone, I don’t want judgment or unsolicited advice or easy answers. Many problems cannot be solved but rather, must be endured. I just want a sympathetic ear. Doesn’t it make sense then that sometimes my family and friends, neighbors and even strangers just want someone to accept where they are at that very moment and sit close by, saying nothing?
I experienced this recently as another friend shared with me the pain of watching her best friend slip away behind the fog of dementia. I empathized, recalling my mother’s mental deterioration and personality change, but decided that it was best just to let her talk. We ended our conversation in silence, looking at each other with misty eyes.
Jay taught me how to do that.
If I were to sit on Santa’s knee, I would say: “St. Nicholas, please ask the Lord to help me grow in grace as a good listener.”
For listening is one of the most precious gifts we can give to each other.
Note: It turns out Jay and I have something else in common–Foster Dad John’s Critter Room!
tons of color photos from Foster Dad John, “Mr Ripley” (James Petts) and Tam Woods including closeups of your favorite kittens and mama cats. Lots of Facebook screen shots.
an interview with Foster Dad John by Connie of “Tails of Foster Kittens”
fan art by Cazul R, “Thorn” and Sandra Andreasen
kitten collages by Nicoya Grobman
fan fiction by Jill Pickford and Annie Staats
remembrances of Peter and Honey
This volume includes the following litters:
There is something here for everyone, including Purrfect Pals.
Purrfect Pals, located in Arlington, WA is the no-kill cat shelter that sponsors The Critter Room. Your purchases will help Purrfect Pals find homes for deserving cats and kittens, including cats with medical conditions. Foster Dad John volunteers for the shelter; they provide him with the food, litter and veterinary care needed for each of his litters.
Purrfect Pals receives the entire royalty;
for every book sold, they receive $10.25.
With that in mind, consider what would happen if we were able to sell 1000 books. Think about that for a moment …
My thanks to John Bartlett, the photographers, screen shot shooters, artists, writers, my proofreader and Connie Gabelein, Executive Director of Purrfect Pals for making this book possible and for making it a joy to put together. I have personally wanted a book I could pull out with my favorite kittens inside and now it is here!
Dispelling the notion that virtual friendships are not real, sixty fans of The Critter Room kitten cam are gathering this weekend at Purrfect Pals in Arlington, WA to meet for the first time. Many were local but some came from as far away as Boston and even Australia. They organized the first annual Kitten Cam Con.
Having been a part of close virtual communities in the past (associated with my music), I can tell you that meeting people you have been corresponding with online is akin to meeting someone famous. There’s that moment of awkwardness when the veil of technology is lifted and you can actually look at, speak with, and hug, that dear friend you have been confiding in for so long. The level of intimacy changes and you are now pressing the flesh. It’s an exhilarating feeling.
I imagine there was a lot of squealing with glee, tears, laughter and hugs as these sixty representatives of the over forty thousand that follow The Critter Room fulfilled their dream of meeting their friends.
Virtual friendships are not new. Before chat rooms and emails there was letter writing. How many of us had pen pals from far away as kids? I had a German pen pal, one from a neighboring state and another from Hawaii. I only got to see the Hawaiian friend and each time it was glorious moving from the written word to hugs and kisses.
I commend and envy all of you at the Kitten Cam Con and am with you in spirit. I hope someday I can meet some of you.
The Average Joe Cat Show (where you can vote for your favorite cat online for a small donation) is taking place at Purrfect Pals as well. These are certainly innovative folks! No wonder they haven’t had to buy any kitten food the last two years (as stated by the executive director of Purrfect Pals).
This is the power of community. Kudos!
The local press took notice of the event and posted two wonderful articles about the Kitten Cam Con and all the wonderful work done by Foster Dad John. If you can’t be there, these are the next best thing:
In a previous post I shared about a special community of lovers, one that revolved around a foster dad, a homeless pregnant cat dubbed Janine and her three kittens, Egon, Ray and Peter (known as the Ghostbuster kittens). I wrote about how this community pulled together in the wake of the loss of sweet Peter at only four days old. I shared about the generosity and daring of a man who spends so much time caring for God’s creatures.
Yesterday was adoption day for the Ghostbusters.
It was a storybook ending, the one many of us had hoped and prayed for. It proved yet again there is such a thing as “happily ever after.”
Many joyful tears were shed when the following graphic appeared on the live kitten cam broadcast:
Peter had been included among the adopted and here’s why:
“Janine, Ray, & Egon are being adopted together and Peter’s adoption fee was donated by an anonymous viewer in California. Peter’s tag will be mailed to them. Janine’s adoption fee was donated by a viewer in Vancouver, BC. Happy tears all around!” from a post by Foster Dad John on The Critter Room
It showed me there can indeed be a perfect world.
The Critter Room community is a microcosm of a perfect world. This does not mean that things don’t go wrong. The Critter Room cam is after all an unedited slice of real life and nature will take her course. But when things do go wrong, the love, thoughtfulness and generosity of the community rights those wrongs.
We can’t get back what we lost. But we can be healed, even transformed. We can move on, taking our fresh tears and loving memories with us, into a new reality of renewed hope. We can share that hope outside of The Critter Room; we can rock our world.
Little communities such as The Critter Room show that if we as a people can unite in love and caring for the least of these, our bigger world will be a better place. That caring comes one at a time: one kitten, one mama, one family, one community.
Caring begins with the one and multiplies like a stone thrown into a pond, creating a ripple effect. That ripple effect is evident in this community from the friendship shown in the chat room, to the beautiful fan art, to the generous donations made to shelters, to the adopters willing to take on multiple fosters and finally, to the numerous new foster moms and dads who have taken in their own families in honor of what is done in The Critter Room.
What one will you care for today? Warning: this could rock your world!
The litter that started it all! I can’t tell you how much pleasure it has given me to watch kitty cams on the web. It sounds like a silly waste of time but the wonderful stories of love, caring and creativity have been inspiring (resulting in beautiful quilts, drawings, paintings and T-shirts). The seven kittens from Pittsburgh led to Foster Dad John Barrett from Purrfect Pals in Washington state and his string of successful fosters (he’s on his 36th litter) You can find him with his current litter, the Mythbusters, on LiveStream; his Facebook page is called The Critter Room.
A long day can be made special watching the antics of 4 week old kittens just learning to play and zoom around on wobbly legs (as they are now on the Mythbusters cam). My vocabulary has grown with “new words:”
floofy (means fluffy)
zoomies (means playing frantically)
Uncle Chickenfish (a favorite toy)
Noodles, the lovely blond mother of the Seven Kittens was rescued from the streets and taken into a private home by two very generous women, Jen and Kara. Watching seven hungry kittens feed from one mother all at the same time was quite the site to see!
Here are the little guys and gals that started it all, at 2 months of age:
For the many thousands of you who have followed the lives and antics of this mother tuxedo cat and her five kittens online, you know that today is bittersweet. As one chat member dubbed it, it’s “Graduation Day.” Ripley and her kittens will be adopted out to their forever (aka “furever”) homes bringing joy into households in the Washington state area.
It may seem like a waste of time to foster kittens (and even more so to spend hours watching them online). The true mystery and beauty of life, however, lie in these little things. There are countless stories of kitty watchers (who call themselves “stalkers”) finding comfort from the grind of daily life: grief, pain, physical ailments and loneliness are assuaged for a time watching a family of kittens grow and thrive.
There is something very touching about a grown man cradling a kitten in his hands, giving the little tummy the raspberries. 🙂
The commitment of time and resources is far more than anyone could imagine. Especially the emotional commitment.
It’s all very life-affirming. God, I’m sure, would approve.
So on this adoption day I wanted to share the customary goodbye video created by Cherry Martini on http://animoto.com:
One is a goodbye and good luck to new friends that I met just a few short weeks ago. Six furry friends who gathered around them a community of thousands, wishing them well. Cared for by a man and his son, who bring laughter, comfort and meaning to people they will never meet.
This family of black, white and grey fluff, paws, tails and sweet faces leaves behind happy memories of adventures, “zoomies,” “baffing” and comforting moments at the milk bar with little paws kneading to and fro. We bid farewell to yet another successful foster family of kittens as they go to new homes.
Who can forget Mama Ripley’s intense and riveting stares? Or rambunctious tabby Parker, scaling new heights in his bids to escape and explore? Mild-mannered tabby Dallas, wishing to follow his brother’s path yet content to just chill? Teddy bear tuxedo Ash, a mass of “floof” and personality? Princess Newt, cool, aloof and beautiful? And sweet pansy-faced Bishop, also dubbed “Batgirl” who loved her tummy rubs from foster dad John?
I feel the familiar catch in the throat, and the eyes well up a little when I observe them this last day on the kitty cam, and I feel immense gratitude and inspiration that people such as John and his son Chris give so generously of their time to take care of God’s little creatures.
Godspeed to Ripley and her kittens.
Then, there is the more significant goodbye to someone I’ve known all my life. My older sister Chris, and her husband Tom, begin their new life of retirement today as they move away from snow-encased Massachusetts to the warmth of Alabama.
The family homestead has been scrubbed from basement to attic and the furniture is on its way. After some thirty years, they venture out again on a new adventure.
It reminds me of the last time, in 1976, when the then 20-something couple left Massachusetts for Arizona in a Datsun 280-Z, dragging behind a U- Haul trailer. My father captured the last moments in pictures.
Construction work was scarce in Massachusetts so Tom and Chris hoped to take advantage of the building boom in Arizona. Several of Tom’s family members eagerly awaited their arrival. They were to stay several years in Arizona where two sons would be born, only to eventually return to Massachusetts, much to the delight of our family.
This time around, Chris and Tom will return each summer to Massachusetts, to the family-built cottage on the shores of Lake Winnekeag in Ashburnham. So it’s not forever. Communication will continue as usual by phone, text, email and Facebook.
But in a way, it is forever. It began with the passing our parents, first with our father in 2003, and then our mother in 2010. We became orphans at that point but we also became free.
The heart aches often for the “old days” when we all gathered around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. When we took family vacations together. When we’d pick up the phone or receive a call, nearly on a daily basis, just to shoot the breeze and talk about our lives.
Parents die and a way a life goes with them. Sometimes it feels like the foundation has fallen away. This is the hardest goodbye of them all.
The orphans, however, must go on. They are now the first generation, the elders that the younger generations look up to. We now set the example, embracing life again, saying “yes” to adventures and opportunities, allowing ourselves to be transformed from within with those “yeses.”
So I won’t say “goodbye” but bid “farewell” to Chris and Tom and wish them well on their new adventure. I look forward to visiting their new home and catching up on all the news.
I won’t have a heavy heart today but the catch in the throat will undoubtedly creep up on me when least expected.