Do you remember the story of my one-eyed cat, Jack? We rescued this wounded kitty and brought him into our home. He couldn’t even purr, he was that broken. But we knew his purr was in there somewhere.
We brushed him, fed him, bathed him, pet him, and loved and loved and loved him. And one day, he found his purr.
But he still had no voice; this kitty could not meow. We stuck with this messed up cat–despite the one eye, the injured mouth, and the tail that wouldn’t hang right. We kept loving him.
And a year later, he stood tall and proud in the kitchen and let out his first squeaky meow. That cat found his voice. It took a year, but he learned to meow again.
A few months later, I discover that my wounded cat is serving another cat, holding her down and bathing her. Jack couldn’t purr a year ago, and now he is taking care of others. I couldn’t believe it.
Well, it gets better.
Last night, I’m reading books with my daughter in her bed, and Jack hops up on top of us and starts doing this strange dance. He’d press his front paws in and then arch his back and press his back paws into the blanket. He could hardly keep his balance, and he was tangling himself up in the sheets.
“What is Jack trying to do?” we laugh and ask each other. We stay very still and observe him. Then, we realize what is happening.
Jack is attempting a behavior that all domestic cats do (but Jack never did). He is kneading.
All cats, when they feel content and safe, press their front paws in and out like they’re kneading bread. Some say that when cats do this, they remember their kitten days of pressing against their mother to get milk. Others claim that cats only enact this ritual when they feel at home. They knead a space to mark it as their bed, usually right next to their mother.
Jack never did this. It’s like he had no memory of even being a happy kitten or being at home. Maybe because he wasn’t. But last night, Jack tries to knead. Kneading, however, represents a complex instinctual action. Cats alternatively flex each paw, press in, and then retract their claws as they lift each paw. Only the front paws knead.
Jack has no idea how to do it, but some kitty instinct kicks in. We watch Jack attempt to knead the bed. He starts, falls over, and then tries again with his back paws (all wrong!). Eventually, as he purrs loudly and rolls all over us, he gets it right. He presses his front paws in, alternating between left and right, before he curls up and falls asleep beside my daughter.
He found his purr. Then he found his voice. Then he found a way to serve despite his wounds. Then, then, he began to remember his true self–becoming fully alive and doing what he was meant to do. Finally safe, finally at home, Jack starts to act like a real cat in every way.
There’s hope for us all, no matter how wounded.