I adore this cat.
I still remember when I first saw him, barely a few months old, with his huge ears and tiny, fluffy body. He’d been left in a box with his many brothers and sisters outside a vet’s office in Toronto. They were too young to be away from their mother. When I came, he was the only one left to adopt. I took him with me that day.
For years, this cat and I had a special bond. He was familiar with my gradient of extreme emotions, and he comforted me through every stage. He brought me so much joy and so much comfort. His name was originally Oscar, but somehow, it ended up being Tittens. No one is sure why or how.
Though Tittens has always stayed in my heart, he’s had a new home for a while. Six years ago, I was moving out of the house where I lived with more roommates and cats than I can count on both hands. A few days after moving in, it turned out that my new landlord and I had miscommunicated about pets. They weren’t allowed.
I called my friend Ivy. She took him in that very night.
At first, I felt guilty and planned to take him back as soon as possible. Then, I visited him. He recognized me when I came through the door and showered me with all the love in his little body. I watched him that evening. He seemed so calm and comfortable.
Something dawned on me: he was happy here. At my new apartment, he’d have been alone much of the time. He had spent his whole life around people and cats. He would have gotten lonely.
And he had also bonded so quickly with Ivy. Was it possible that he belonged with her now?
Every time I talked to Ivy, it became more and more apparent that Tittens had become one of her closest friends. Every time I saw him, he remembered me. Every time I saw them together, it solidified a decision that was never made official—a decision that felt natural to everyone involved. Tittens had a new home now.
A year later, I decided to sell my things to travel. It wasn’t lost on me that this decision wouldn’t have been possible with Tittens in the picture. Was I selfish for leaving him not only in a different home but now a different country? Would he forget me? Would he have a happy life?
This year, after nine months in South America, I returned to Canada in mid-October—the home of my family and the home of Ivy and Tittens.
Last weekend, Ivy had travel plans and asked me to cat sit. I love pet sitting (especially cat sitting), but this was even better. I was excited to see my old friend, Tittens. I also wondered if it had been too long. The last time I’d seen him was a year prior, when he got sick and I came to help with his care. I didn’t know if he had recognized me back then because he was in rough shape. Before that, it had been another year. Would he remember me?
As soon as I walked through the door, Tittens came towards me and looked me in the eyes with that same loving stare as always. I reached out for him. He started purring. It was like no time had passed at all.
For three days, we spent so much quality time together. We hugged. We played. We slept. We cuddled.
He’s older now, slower, calmer. He’s gained a few pounds. He doesn’t run around like a maniac, and he also doesn’t fear noises. He’s heard them all a hundred times by now.
But what I notice most about him is something that he’s had all along: presence. He’s always willing to have a moment of connection. He’s willing to take each new opportunity for intimacy, joy, play. If I can’t respond to him right away, he waits. He comes back later. He gives me another chance.
The day after I arrived, I faced a difficult situation. Someone I once wronged rejected my attempt to reconcile. In that moment, I asked myself, “What would Tittens do?”
The answer was so simple: he would make the best of it and accept her if she ever wanted to come back. So that’s what I did. I smiled and told her she was always welcome back. Then, I wrote a poem. Then, I kept dancing. It didn’t spoil my night. It actually turned into a valuable learning experience.
For years, I’ve been working on cultivating acceptance and curiosity, and here is this little guru, who’s known about these things all along. I never saw it in him before. I can see it now. Magic.
“What would Tittens do?” Would I have ever asked myself that all those years ago when he was “my” cat? Would I have appreciated this about him if we’d stayed together? Would I have felt such reverence for his level of serenity and wisdom if I hadn’t sought those on my unique path?
It’s impossible to predict what would have happened, but I do know that Tittens is happy and so am I. I know that Ivy adores him and he adores her. I know that I feel transformed by the few days I spent with him, and I know those transformations are only possible because of the seeds planted by hundreds of other experiences.
When Ivy came back from her trip, she offered me to stay with them for a few more days. Her and I bonded more than we ever have. We talked deeply about our lives, our transformations, our beliefs. I saw, within her thoughts and feelings, traces of the wise teachings of Tittens. This little guru had been there to reinforce her every lesson on the journey of self-discovery. The things we had both found so difficult, he knew all along.
I am writing this on my last night here. Though I will come visit Tittens, I’m not sure when will be my next opportunity to sleep with him curled around my hand or to be pleasantly interrupted by his hopping onto the bed next to me. I’m can’t say, without a doubt, that this will ever happen again. All I know for sure is that it’s been magical and that I now have more resources to cope with life’s gifts and challenges.
It’s sad to let go. But this experience has taught me the importance and sacredness of distance. In the spaces between interactions, we have the opportunity to learn, grow, and integrate the lessons we have trouble learning in closeness.
Roger de Bussy-Rabutin once said, “Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great.”
I believe this applies to any kind of connection, not just what is stereotypically defined as “love” in Hollywood. Our bonds are tested by distance. Some strengthen. Some weaken. But all provide a valuable lesson about the nature of the relationship: a lesson that isn’t always accessible without first letting go.