Several years ago, a pitiful stray cat searching for food came to our back door. He had been beaten so badly he trembled uncontrollably, walking slowly and deliberately the same way a person in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease moves. By breed, he was a tuxedo cat, dirty and emaciated, with a lentigo spot adorning the right side of his mouth. A ribbon of dried blood ran from his ear to his chin; now dark and matted, the laceration needed immediate attention, but because of his feral nature, and despite our best efforts, there was no choice but to leave the wound untreated.
Using patience and gentle words, we persuaded him to eat from a tray of food that we had placed on the ground near the bottom step of our back porch. After eating, he lumbered slowly down the driveway and then disappeared behind a small bush.
Much to our relief, he returned the next day and soon became a regular visitor, trudging up the steps three or four times a day to beg for food, eating frequent meals because he was not well enough to eat more than a small portion at a time.
It took months to win his trust; we spent much of that time sitting on the back porch talking about the day’s events as he cleaned his paws at the bottom of the steps. Eventually we established a comfort level that allowed a few minutes of physical contact, and even though he never completely warmed to affection, he seemed to enjoy the attention. Last fall, he found the courage to eat his meals inside our utility room, making it easier to care for him on winter days when the weather was cold and rainy. Some days he lingered after eating, enjoying the warmth of the small room, resting on a bed that we had placed in the corner. We had always hoped to make him a permanent member of the household, but he never overcame his fears enough to step inside the house.
He showed up today, hungrier than usual, and because it was a beautiful day in southern California, I sat on the steps talking to him as he ate. I was pleased to see that his coat was clean and shiny, and his once emaciated body was now bordering on pudginess. He seemed content to sit at my feet, eating tuna and salmon with gusto.
As I watched him eating, I thought about the first day he walked into our lives, a small, injured cat that no one wanted. A less patient person might have considered him a lost cause, but today, I felt confident that we had done the right thing; he was alive and I was thankful. Over time, our affection for him has grown, and today, like everyday, it was a relief to see his head peeking behind the door when I stepped outside.
His story might seem insignificant to a person unmoved by animal cruelty - especially when compared to the urgency of the crises facing our nation today - but for those of us who have an affinity for living things, his rescue represents the value we place on all life, no matter how insignificant.
As I watched him, I thought about my own life, much of it spent feeding hungry animals, nurturing poor people, fighting cruelty and injustice, struggling against racial inequality, and championing a thousand humanitarian causes that have broken my heart more than once. And eventually that train of thought led me to affirm my beliefs in liberal values and to remember the reason I am a proud member of the progressive community.
I was not raised to be a ‘bleeding heart’ liberal; my roots were deeply embedded in a southern-fundamentalist-bigoted-hateful-ignorance that is repulsive and foreign to me now.
On the night John F. Kennedy was nominated to head the presidential ticket of the Democratic Party, my father and I watched the convention on a small black and white TV in our living room. My father was angry, and I cringed in horror as I listened to him shouting at the television set, condemning Catholics, liberals, and the ‘unpatriotic cowards’ who controlled the Democratic Party. But at the same time, I was mesmerized by Kennedy’s charisma, and I was convinced that I was listening to one of the most inspirational speakers in American history. He was likeable; a compelling figure whose message resonated inside my head like nothing I had experienced before. That night I became a liberal, and believe me; I was punished for making that decision. At the ripe old age of fourteen, I became persona non grata in my own family, and I was treated as an outcast, a disobedient child who had tarnished the family image.
I’ve never regretted making that decision, even though it carried a heavy price tag. Like many liberals, I have been bullied, threatened, and taunted for my beliefs, but the criticism has only strengthened my resolve. I have learned to accept my status as an outlier because the core values that I defend are greater than any life I could hope to lead.
My journey as a progressive has taught me there are good conservatives, just like there are bad liberals; there are compassionate Republicans and too often there are cruel Democrats, but in general, I have learned that conservatives tend to value wealth and objects more than people, while true liberals embrace life as a celebration, and I prefer the latter. Conservatives tend to view other people as extensions of their own egos, valuing people only in the context of their usefulness, while progressives champion individual rights, trusting each individual to determine his or her own fate.
Because compassion and empathy are the cornerstones of liberalism, I joined the Democratic Party when I reached majority age. I have always valued life more than money; I care about the plight of people who are starving, my heart bleeds for mothers who don’t have enough money to care for their children, and I am offended by the suffering of innocent people who have been forced to live in tents or cars because Wall Street criminals gambled on the global economy…and lost.
I even care about a gentle stray cat, one that had the audacity to remind me that it is more important to be humane than it is to sell one’s soul for personal gain.
The unedited version of this story was posted on the Daily Kos in March of 2009. I felt compelled to republish an amended version of this piece because the cat discussed in the article is near death. He is blind in one eye, and his steps are so measured he can be toppled by a simple gust of wind. And it is dangerous for a feral cat to be that vulnerable, so the time has come to have him euthanized.
Here’s to the gentle souls of the world, no matter what shape they take.
4:27 AM PT: Thanks for the support. It helps to share a story like this with people who understand.
I'm off to bed (couldn't sleep last night). If I miss your comment, I will respond later today. Thanks again.