The students hurry toward us as soon as they spot Lucy. “Did they catch the man who wanted to poison all the cats?” “Did Lucy ever find her mother?”
Their questions spring from concern over events in the novel that Lucy Miracle – the cat – narrates. The events are fictional, but these students have reason to believe. They are living an extraordinary story themselves. They are from low-income, frequently fractured families in an area where fewer than half the adults hold a high school diploma. They qualify for free or reduced price school meals to ensure they are fed.
But these students’ bodies, minds and souls are being fed through the kindness of people many of them will never meet. They attend Academy Prep Center of Tampa, on scholarships fully funded by donations at no cost to the kids or their families. In an area of the city where simple attendance is not expected of many school-age kids, let alone graduation, these middle school students are at the Academy six days a week, for up to eleven hours a day – and after eighth grade, they are going on to prestigious high schools and colleges, mentored all along the way. They have no trouble relating to Lucy’s miracle story – and some of the verses they write about it reflect that:
“Hurray! I’m saved by an angel from above. My crystalled eyes shine with joyful tears. I’m glad to know I can trust someone I love. I felt like life was worth losing, but now, it’s reversed. Now, I’m so happy it hurts.”
“Curious About Everything
Agreeing About What to Do
Tough And Hard Minded”
“Can I have a cat
Cats are really cool they rock
Now we all want cats.”
Earthly angels may not be too farfetched a term for some other people who think cats rock – and prove it with their actions. They give up their nights, their weekends, time with family and friends to advocate for spaying and neutering pets, trapping and neutering free-roaming cats, and adopting out everyone they can.
Colony Cats (& dogs) of Columbus, Ohio, runs a bustling cat adoption center where the occasional dog also comes through to find a home – like the strong, handsome deaf one who was there the day I visited. I’m told that his owner was about to put him to sleep – and then Colony Cats stepped in. It’s an all-volunteer organization, 150 people strong. Some come by regularly to scoop litter boxes and clean. Some spend time giving the cats attention and affection. Some facilitate the adoptions. Some foster animals waiting for homes. Some staff the boutique at which sales of upscale secondhand goods help keep the money coming in. Some organize and run the events that do the same.
As for the cats themselves – abandoned, stranded, strangers to each other until they are housed together at the adoption center – they share food, bowls, litter boxes and sleeping spaces ungrudgingly. They offer affection to each other and to visiting humans.
Kindness wears many faces: the abandoned animal still willing to trust and love; the volunteer willing to get dirty and tired to better the lives of other species; the benefactors willing to fund educations of kids who otherwise might not be in school; the students who care about a cat they’ve only read about; the cat who’s willing to indulge their attentions – even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.
Extending ourselves in kindness can be uncomfortable – but if we’re willing to make the reach, we can also discover that it feels pretty darn cozy.