Clean Your Floors and Eat Some Soup.
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
One day in the year 2019, I was getting ready to go to work when I realized that I hadn't seen my cat, Phoebe, all morning. I searched for her, getting more and more frantic by the minute. By the time I called work to tell them I wasn't coming in (oh, yeah), my mother was printing fliers:
I was in full guilt-ridden panic: What if she wasn't safe? What if some crazy neighbor had her and was torturing her?! What if she was out the in the ally being bullied by mean bully cats (?!)?! What if she was scared?! What if she needed me?!
What if she felt abandoned by me?
I ran around my building, opening doors that set off noisy alarms and knocking on neighbors' doors. I sat outside with her litter box, cause someone told me that might help.
Exhausted, depleted and not the least bit hopeful, I returned to my building. There is an older Jewish lady who lives on the first floor, I believe her name is Barbara. She often sits in her wheelchair in the doorway by her mezuzah, watching people go by. That day, our eyes met, and I had to ask:
"Have you seen my cat?"
Her eyes lit up as she slowly smiled and echoed,
Now, had I known what an avid cat lover she was... 1) I might not have started this very long conversation, 2) I probably would have named her my number one suspect and kicked down her door. But, I stuck around and listened to her talk about her cats and cats she used to have and the kind of cat she'd like to have for about 20 minutes while my heart ached over my own missing cat.
I'm not going to lie to you and say that I loved that conversation and I was happy to hold space for her. I wasn't. But then, right at the tail end as she finally released me, she said something I'll never forget:
"Now, go home. Clean your floors and eat some soup. Then she'll come home."
I didn't know how she knew my floors were so dirty. I thanked her and went to my apartment. When I got there... I cleaned my floors, and my heart rate slowed a little. I ate some soup, and my vibrating stomach settled a little. I called my therapist, and while I was on the phone, re-opening the flood gates about how scared she must feel and how useless I felt:
POP! Phoebe's outstretched paw and claws dramatically shot out from underneath the couch, and there she was. Home. All along.
Right now, present day, June 27th, 2020... I feel lost. I have felt lost in and out of myself. No internal compass to guide me, no trust in myself or anything, no signs of what to do. A lot of days I get so lost in what I am not that I completely forget what I am.
The other night, I ugly cried and sang some Brandi Carlile songs and thought,
"...There I am."
Yesterday I danced, but like how I used to choreograph and dance all those years ago and thought, "Aha! There you are! There I am!" Just spinning stories with my body, no concern with perfection.
This morning, I walked into my kitchen. It's filthy. There are cockroaches and crumbs, oil and rust, grime and piles. Noah and I order far too much take out simply so we can avoid the kitchen. My bare foot landed in a pile of crumbly God knows what and I thought:
Time to clean the floors. How am I supposed to find myself when my kitchen is covered in olive oil and pizza crumbs?
How am I supposed to trust myself when I'm abandoning myself?
I will say, now, that I'm happy I could hold space for Barbara that day. I'm glad she could tell me how much she loved cats, and I'm glad she could be a part of the story of how I "found" mine.
We find ourselves by setting aside what's troubling us, for a moment, and doing what we can. The world may be spinning out of control (perhaps for the better), and we may feel helpless. Dirty floors don't help, and that's something I can do. When I meet my fundamental needs and go the extra mile to do precisely that which might bring me joy, I am finding myself again.
What brings you back to yourself? Would love to hear from you.
Your Messy Friend,