3 Things My 3-Legged Cat Taught Me About Life
Bonus #5: you don't need any limbs to overeat. Just ram your face into the bowl.
Have you ever loved pesto pasta so much you named your pet after it? Well that's the roundabout reasoning for my cat, Basil's name. But I like to think it's also short for Basilica, because much like that Gaudian cathedral, he too is unfinished. Three limbs and a lack of one.
We don't know what happened to him. If he's anything like us, he probably pawned his leg online in exchange for a couple extra slices of wafer thin ham. In any case, my dad simply stumbled across him and his teeny tiny stump when going to collect my other cat, Tully, from the cat's home. He'd had surgery that very same day and dad overheard them discussing it and we're all for an underdog here (an undercat, if you will) so we couldn't exactly not have him.
So we took him home. He crapped on the carpet. Got fur in my pasta. Stole my side of the bed. Scratched at the kitchen door. Trapped himself in the neighbours shed. Ate a bird. Threw up a bird. And in and amongst all of this chaos, he slipped on a tiny little blazer, clipped an ID badge to the tip of his tail, hooked up a projector to the TV and taught me some of the wisest lessons I now know.
Turns out we'd only gone and adopted a limbless little lecturer.
1. It's okay if your chin hits the floor sometimes
Cats, much like slasher movie fanatics and old CD players, love to jump. Into trees, over fences, onto the kitchen counter. They're built for it, their athletic musculoskeletal systems allow for a pretty effortless ascent onto the top of the wardrobe where they can thus glare at you in the darkness, their piercing amber eyes reflecting the fires of Hell, like the diddly demons that they are.
Basil included. He's a king in our household and no king eats on the floor. His throne is the kitchen table in which his dinner is served to him right alongside ours. He'll lie in the fruit bowl. Sprawl out across my laptop. Dip his tail in my cuppa as he settles in for a couple solid hours of supreme Sitting™. And then, when he's done, he'll jump back down - but his landing is never quite smooth.
His missing front leg means he lands rather roughly, the one leg remaining unable to quite bear all his weight (and boy, for a bloke missing a body part he sure does make up for it in his belly region. Are we sure he didn't just eat his own leg?). So his chin, quite often, hits the floor. His tiny white beard smacking into the wood as he rides the momentum of his not-so delicate descent and carries on bounding forward. The first few times we watched him jump, it broke our heart. We'd try it and do it for him, pick him up, set him down. But he's a fidgeter, Got-Ham's heroic vigilante Catman, so he was having none of it. He was doing this alone, on his own, of his own accord. It was his decision to close his eyes and jump.
And every time his chin grazed the floor, it rose again. Every time we winced at what we thought was him in pain, we followed it with a grin at his triumph. Every time he landed, feet firm on the ground, he sprung straight back into action. Every time it happened - and every time he was okay.
Because it is okay. It's okay if your chin hits the floor sometimes. As Baz will tell you, it's actually pretty common, it's part and parcel of the process. If you want to get to where you desire to go, you have to be prepared to take the leap. You have to expect a little discomfort. You have to embrace anything that might slap you in the face and then - more importantly - you have to shake it off immediately. Forget about it. Move past it. Stride straight on over to your food bowl as though it never even happened.
2. It's okay to incessantly follow what you love
My cat is obsessed with my dad. Maybe it's a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome - falling desperately in love with your own captor - or maybe Baz is a descendant of Rapunzel (all of this stray malted hair could easily be braided into a rope long enough to scale a tower. Might even knit him a new leg out of it) and dad is his heroic saviour. Or, more likely, Baz is in love with the bloke that gives him food (I know that's how it works for me).
Either way, he's obsessed. He will follow (as in, hobble) him to the ends of the universe and then park himself right there in his lap, this deadweight of dad adoration. If Basil was a human, we'd call him co-dependent, probably sign him up to a couple extracurricular activities at the local community centre so he can get out and mingle for a bit. But he's a cat, so we call him cute instead.
And honestly, I think we should apply that to ourselves a little more, too. Because sometimes it's okay to be so wholly committed to something - a person, a place, a pass time - to dedicate your entire soul to something that has given you an opportunity for a better, and more loving life. Maybe you found a job that gives you a sense of purpose. Or a boyfriend who shows you what it's like to feel seen. Or a city that you just know, you just know, in a past life you once ruled there. Whatever it might be, if it adds new layers to your life, binding them with glitter glue and fairy-lights, then follow it incessantly.
Don't ever let that go.
My dad saved Basil in so many ways. And Basil has saved my dad right back (I know he loves having a best pal he doesn't have to share his Galaxy chocolate with). From whatever darkness Baz had previously endured, he found light in my papa. And not just because his bald head reflects lamps perfectly.
3. Your scars are what make you beautiful
I was at university when my dad got our cats (yet another reason why uni is a sin. The excessive debt and weight gain are points two and three). I didn't meet them until a few weeks later.
When I'd arrived home, Baz was on the stairs, watching me patiently. The wound from his leg was beginning to heal, but his scar was still fresh, still visible. Velvety fur was re-growing around it, not quite a winter's coat but a light grey fleece just in case it was chilly out. I think he knew I was family because he didn't shy away, he didn't tremble, he wasn't tentative when I reached out to stroke him. Instead, he sat up on his hind legs like a budget penguin and nuzzled his head into the palm of my hand.
After a little fuss and a lot of love, I grazed my fingers across the space where his leg used to be, felt the tiny remnant stump beneath his skin and the scabs forming around his scar. He didn't flinch. He did start licking his ass shortly after, but I think that's unrelated.
My point is, as he blinked up at me, watching me watching him, I was literally mesmerised by the strength of this furry sack of flesh and tuna fish. This cat, this tiny being, having been through some Crappy Ol' Crap™ and yet still here he is, this almighty little character, this quirky addition to our already Bloody Weird™ family, almost as if he was made exactly for us. Granted, he was made slightly faulty, a couple pieces missing from his packaging (a leg and a brain. Convinced he's got neither), but a gift nonetheless.
His scars make him beautiful because they mark the journey he took to arrive here, with us. To find his way home.
The same applies to us.
The phantom 4th point:
4. You don't know what you've lost if you're not reliant on it anyway
They say "you don't know what you've got until it's gone," but if Basil is anything to go by, then you don't know what you've lost even when it's gone, not if your happiness was never dependent on it in the first place.
There was no criteria for Basil's joy. He didn't wake up each morning with a strict four-point to-do list in order for him to have a successful day:
1. Have a front left leg
2. Have a front right leg
3. Have a back left leg
4. Have a back right leg
There was nothing he needed to do or to have in order to be one happy kitty. He just was.
Which is why he often forget he was even missing a leg. Occasionally we'd catch him in his litter tray, his shoulder jiggling away as though he was digging through the litter with a phantom leg. It kind of looked like he was trying to shuffle a jacket on. It was endearing. And a little annoying, considering he left his turd unearthed having convinced himself he'd covered it with this invisible limb of his.
But you see? It never affected him. It never held him back. Were he to possess the capacity to sulk, he still wouldn't have. His missing leg was not a hindrance to his happiness because it was never a factor anyway. It didn't weigh him down - if anything, it lightened him up (literally). Filled him with glee because finally he'd be able to dress as a tripod for Halloween.
Basil is the most charming boy I know.
Sure, he's a cat. Sure, he doesn't follow me on Twitter. Sure, he's never offered to buy me a veggie chow mein. But he's still super bloody important. Not just for the things he's taught me or the likes I've accumulated on Instagram because of our ace little selfies, but simply because he exists.
His value is right there, stitched into every atom of his being (and in the air around those atoms that are missing), and it's worth it's weight in stardust, purely because he's here with us now. I am grateful for every morning I've woken to his rancid breath as he naps up on my pillow. I am grateful for every half-living black bird he's delivered to me as a present (still though Baz, I'd prefer a Nintendo). I am grateful for him surviving everything that he's survived and living just long enough to curl up in my lap and vibrate love directly into my soul.
He's three legs and infinite heart. What he lacks in limbs, he makes up for in appetite and abundant love. Maybe we should be a little more like our Baz.
Wait no Ed, put the hacksaw down, I meant figuratively!