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Lessons I've Learned from Cats

I have always loved cats. Although I grew up with both dogs and cats, cats have continuously held a warmer space in my heart. I think they remind me a bit of myself: independent, unpredictable, and mysterious. If you ask my husband or son, I’m sure they would not describe me as unpredictable or mysterious, but deep inside, I am. I suppose that’s the mystery in me😊.

My first lesson with a cat is a physical reminder that cats do not like to be thrown into pools! My brother thought it would be funny to tell me, as a three or four-year-old, that cats love to swim and I should throw ours into the pool to make it happy and test out its amazing dog paddling skills. Always trying to please my brother, I quickly scooped up the cat and learned very quickly that cats neither like to be thrown in pools nor do they like to swim. I learned that I shouldn’t always listen to my brother, and I think he learned that teasing a toddler with such a feat is incredibly unwise. I know he must have some underlying guilt about this and wonder if he ever notices the scar that I have come to love on the bridge of my nose from this event.

After that first cat, I had many others—all unique with big personalities, finicky and loving in their own ways. I suppose I have learned lessons from each one, but my greatest lessons started with Darryl, an abandoned kitty who lived at a local carwash. A friend of mine worked at the carwash and would feed Darryl every day. On the days he wasn’t available, I would make my way to the carwash and call out Darryl’s name. I would wait to hear his incredibly loud “Meow! Meow! Meow!” as if to say, “Hey! I’m coming!! Don’t leave—I’m HUNGRY!!” I would see him coming, a quick shot of orange and white flashing each time from a different direction. Without fail, he would happily and gratefully lap up his food then lie down just far enough away that I couldn’t touch him without getting up to move. Eventually, my friend found another job and the task of feeding Darryl every day was passed on to me. After a year of this, my husband and I decided, on a very cold day, to bring Darryl to his forever home. After he finished his food, I threw a towel over him and quickly took him to our car. Yelping the whole way home, Darryl had no idea at this point how his life was about to change.

For the first two weeks, Darryl would hide under the couch, and each morning my husband would pull him out and speak softly to him while stroking his shiny fur. During those two weeks, Darryl imprinted on my husband and was faithful to him his entire life. Even though I knew Darryl’s heart belonged to my husband, I felt a deep kinship with him. He had felt tremendous loss and fear and lived in survival mode for years, but there was a tenderness about him I had never seen in another cat. Not a day went by that I didn’t feel his gratitude, which his deep green eyes expressed so openly. I knew he was a deep thinker; he had survived too much not to be. I related to this at a level that only survivors can understand—gratitude for kindness, a soft word, or even just another day.

When my stepdaughter moved in with us, she wanted to bring her cat, Edward. My husband and I protested, but one day a very sleek, black Edward appeared and quickly made our house his own. I worried about how Darryl would accept the new cat, another male, but this was never a problem. Darryl was grateful to have a friend and quickly acknowledged Edward’s position as alpha male. Edward and Darryl were so different—Darryl submissive, elusive, intense; Edward overly confident and lacking depth and intensity. Somehow the pair became brethren, with Darryl sleeping on top of Edward of every day. Darryl would quickly climb on top of Edward, Edward’s eyes open with a look of “Again?” as Darryl would fall into his quick cat sleep.

When Darryl left this earth, Edward reacted at a level I didn’t realize was possible for him. His outgoing personality become withdrawn, and we could not leave for any length of time without it having a tremendous effect on him; we worried that he would give up on life. Was Edward a deeper thinker than I had given him credit for? We spent extra time giving him assurance and affection, and slowly he began to accept that all would be well again. This would be another lesson a cat would help me recognize--acceptance. After all, the opposite of acceptance is to either fight or give up, which is exhausting. Edward and I both know this exhaustion, something we share and have bonded over. Something we don’t choose anymore.

Edward thrived with Darryl, so we thought it might be time to find him a new friend; this new friend came in the very tiny form of Annabel. My favorite poem is “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe, and I knew if I ever had a daughter, I would give her this name as homage to my hero. A daughter was not in the Universe’s plan for me, so when I found out this tiny ball of mischief was born on Annabel Street AND born on my son’s birthday, I knew it was a sign. She was not a sign that Edward was ready for, however! He hissed and did his best to intimidate her, but she was undaunted. Edward is a VERY big cat, and even at her tiny size, Annabel trusted that he wouldn’t hurt her. Every day she would jump on him, bite his ears and tail, get knocked off, held down, bitten, but she never was shaken. She had this innate trust that he was her new fur friend, and slowly Edward began to believe it himself. Now, just two months later, they can be caught cuddling, Annabel on top just like Darryl. They play together, something Edward is a bit too large to do gracefully anymore, but their time together is beautiful. What is even more surprising is her level of trust. From the first day we had her, she surrendered to us, never presenting any level of fear. I like to believe that Darryl has something to do with this, that he is smiling at the tiny form lying on top of his best friend. Trust has never been easy for me; I’ve had too many people who have hurt me in my life, but I am working on it. Watching Annabel and her unabashed trust has taught me that trust is a necessity for a happy and peaceful life. Even if people have disappointed me, I can have trust in myself, the most important person in my life.

The lessons I have learned from cats have stuck with me, and I realize that these cats are on my journey with me. Have they learned from me as much as I have learned from them? Maybe one day I will know that answer. For now, gratitude, acceptance, and trust have been my greatest lessons, and I am grateful I was able to learn them from my forever friends.


Susan Winslow is an English professor who teaches composition, research writing, critical thinking, and literature in southern California. She received her B.A. in Drama from the University of Southern California, her M.A. in English literature from California State

University at Long Beach, and her EdD in Educational Leadership and Management from Capella University. She leads several book clubs, including the DNRS Literary Book Club. She started her journey with DNRS after her perfect storm and has never looked back. She is a traveler, learner, and hiker. Her strong connection with nature and birds has helped her with her healing journey, and she is in the process of writing a children short story series based on her visualizations with her friend Ray the Redhawk.

She may be reached at the following:

Facebook: Susan McCormick Winslow

Instagram: susan.winslow63

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