My older daughter pushed the nursing home elevator button while gripping the cat carrier with her opposite hand. Inside was the cat she picked from a litter of foster kittens and said, “I am supposed to have this one, Mom. I just know it.”
“But I promised your dad we wouldn’t ask to adopt any of the kittens we fostered,” I reminded.
Six weeks later, after writing the most persuasive letter of her life to her father (tearstained, no less), Paisley was ours.
Over the past seven months, we’ve grown to love this non-cuddly, leash walking, annoyingly talkative cat who willingly puts himself in awkward positions like too-small containers and sixty foot trees (window screens have since been nailed down since that daring escape).
But on this particular day, Paisley’s 13-year-old owner would put herself in an awkward position knowing Paisley was made for this particular role: To bring cheer to nursing home residents.
Unlike her little sister, Natalie is shy with strangers and has declined many invitations to visit the retirement home – until this day. When she heard they allow pets to visit the residents, she said, “Paisley was made for this. I want to take him.”
Avery led the way to her friend Annie’s floor. We saw precious Annie right away. She was slumped over in her wheelchair. When we greeted her, she smiled slightly but then nodded back off to sleep. We proceeded to take Paisley down the hall, stopping to let residents pet him if they wished. He didn’t mind being called a Cocker Spaniel by the lady in red or having his paws clamped together for several minutes while the cat-loving senior told him her woes.
But the real magic happened when we neared the end of the hallway. Thinking we’d visited everyone on the third floor, we were about to leave.
“Is that a Maine Coon?” a woman confined to a hospital bed summoned us by asking.
We went into her room and chatted a little about cats, but mostly about her poor health which kept her hospitalized longer than she planned. As we said our goodbyes, a voice called out from behind the privacy curtain. We peered around to find a lovely woman with short curly hair with the biggest smile on her face.
“Oh my!” she cried. “I was up all night praying I would not be forgotten. I asked the Lord to send me someone with heart. And look at who He sent! Just look at who He sent!”
I honestly never knew someone we’d never met could be so happy to see us. My eyes instantly filled with tears.
Natalie, who up until that point had been quite protective of her cat, scooped Paisley from my arms and laid him right beside the woman in the bed. And our very active young cat, who is the farthest thing from a lap cat, curled right up next to this stranger and fell fast asleep! I could not believe my eyes.
“He knows LOVE,” the woman explained. “This cat is my little lamb sent to me because the Lord knew my load was heavy,” she said tearfully. And then she burst into a song of praise.
For the next thirty minutes, we stayed with “Mama J” while Paisley slept soundly beside her. Because out of all the residents in this large nursing home and out of all the places we could have been on a Saturday afternoon, it was quite clear she was the one we unknowingly came to see.
On our way out, we made a point to stop at Annie’s wheelchair. I bent down and reintroduced ourselves. But she did not recognize us and kept agitatedly repeating, “What?”
Suddenly she hung her head and began to sob. The other residents and nurses kept about their business as though this was not unusual for Annie now. Knowing we could never leave her like this, Avery bent down, drew close to Annie’s face, and began singing Annie’s favorite song:
“Wise men say, only fools rush in,
But I can’t stop falling in love with you.”
Annie immediately stopped crying. A peacefulness settled upon her face. Avery smiled and continued softly.
“Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling, so it goes,
Some things are meant to be.
Take my hand,
Take my whole life too
For I can't help falling in love with you.”
Annie didn’t know us that day, but she knew love …
Just like Paisley knew Mama J needed his comfort …
Just like Natalie knew Paisley needed us and needed to visit the elderly.
Who would have thought a little rescue cat would have such an important message to deliver the world?
To listen when love summons
To act in atypical and courageous ways when love calls
To go where it smells unpleasant and the future looks bleak
To remember where the lonely and forgotten reside
To bring love where it is desperately needed
To speak love when words fail
To try love when we’ve run out of options
To set aside fears, worries, agenda, and distractions and just show up.
Because whether we signed up for it or not,
Because whether we are prepared for it or not,
Because whether we feel like it or not,
We are love.
And we just never know when someone we never met is waiting on us to arrive.
Perhaps we do know.
What if we listen to love’s summons today?
What if we act in atypical and courageous ways when we are called?
We might just hear the unmistakable sound of hope—the uplifting sound a heart makes when a prayer has been answered.
It will bring cleansing tears to our eyes and make our complicated lives suddenly very simple.
We are love.
And that is all we need to know.
Update December 2020: Paisley is four years old now and if you follow my Facebook page or Instagram account, you know he's been having some health issues. I took him back to the vet today, and the doctor called me as I sat in the car. She said, “I am sorry he had to come back to see me, but I will say, he's the most social, well behaved little cat!” I felt grateful for this loving vet and for the cat shelter which cares for cats like Paisley so they can find their forever homes. In honor of Giving Tuesday, would you consider a small donation to All About Cats, the beloved shelter that brought us Paisley and cares for many unwanted and abandoned animals? And if music therapy holds a special place in your heart, the nursing home where Avery got her start as a music therapist with Mr. John is welcoming any and all donations for their Songs for Seniors program. Thank you for your generous and loving hearts! I love you!