Meet Robbie, the crippled kitten. He was rescued from a shelter, he has the softest fur you’ve ever felt under your fingers but he is also afflicted with feline immunodeficiency virus. His back leg is broken. You think he looks great in your bohemian-chic apartment, except his fur sheds like crazy, and he claws at you viciously. No, this is not an ad for the animal shelter. Robbie is a metaphor for the imperfect gifts we receive in life.
Human beings cannot help but dream about the perfect cat, the perfect apartment, the perfect job, the perfect partner in life. Have you ever gotten ready for a date, and already your mind is projecting all the ways in which this person will be “perfect”? You piece together the ingredients for perfection in your mind based on the little you gather from a profile or from a friend’s introduction. And then the day arrives and you learn that your date is twice divorced; the person in front of you isn’t perfect, maybe you don’t call each other again.
Or maybe it is a job. You apply for a job, you do all your research and get very psyched about the interview and about the potential of the firm. And then the interview happens and the recruiter pours cold water over your vision of the company. He candidly tells you that they can’t afford to pay you except in the role of a freelancer; he tells you some other things that makes you realize that the seemingly established company (from the look of its website) is struggling just like so many organizations out there. You just might withdraw your application.
Another example, you’ve wanted to be an artist since you were young. You actually made it to art school and graduated. Cubism is your thing. And then you realize that you have no clear idea about how to make a living as a professional artist. Disgusted by the networking you have to do, and by your graphic design job at an ad agency, you start to look at the word “ART” with horror and disdain.
In modern life, we have at least 21 ways to customize our latte at the coffee counter. We are inundated by options, choices, other fish in the sea. We are given this illusion that we can have things exactly the way that we want them. Similarly, Robbie probably came to your house on a trial basis, and should he prove too much for you to handle, you can always return him to the shelter. Even the notoriously high rate of divorce these days owes itself to the same logic. You try your best but the distance between the cat in your mind and the crippled kitten in front of you finally proves to be too huge a distance; giving up or giving something or someone up is always an option.
In a way, we always receive crippled kittens as gifts. If you search your mind to think about it, you probably realize that this is true. Everyone of us has a crippled kitten in our care right now whose fate we are trying to decide on. The truth is that even as modern life reaches a pinnacle of ease, comfort and efficiency, the most meaningful relationships in our lives might be fueled by other values. We continue to run up against some very difficult choices, and all the technology at our fingertips doesn’t really make those choices easier. At some point, something that is very meaningful to us, might also be very difficult to sustain. Do you cut and run then?
A quote from The Little Prince comes to mind: “It is the time that you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important.” Maybe because time is so finite, whatever you give time to, you imbue with value. Ie. It is the time that you have given your crippled kitten that makes your crippled kitten so important. The actual manifestation of whatever idea is important to you (be it art, a cabin in the woods, the perfect life partner, the ideal job) is likely to be imperfect. Such is life. A career path might be so difficult to pursue that it often causes you to lose faith in yourself. A marriage could run into such obstacles that keeping faith sounds like something out of a Hallmark card you don’t believe in anymore. Yes, there is such a thing as self-care. But if you stop looking for the healthy, well-trained mice killer in your mind’s eye, maybe you’d feel less inclined to return Robbie to the shelter. The open secret may be that we are all crippled kittens in some ways, and we wouldn’t want someone to return us to the shelter for not meeting the ideal of the Perfect Cat. I suggest we take out the adjective (“crippled”) and just view what we give time to as a simple, unqualified noun: our career, our cat. Ours for better or worse, to nurture and love as we see fit. Or do you disagree?
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