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What happened to the crazy cat lady?



By FAYE MICHELSON

From their round furry faces to their pointy little ears, what’s not to love about cats? I’ve loved all the pussycat people who have been part of our family – from my childhood tomcat, Milton, to the various long-lived felines who have purred their way through life with us over the past four decades.

There was Jaffa, the tortoiseshell; Oliver, the scruffy cat, who adopted us from next door; Possum, given to us by a neighbour after 16-year-old Jaffa died; Nichi, found by one of our daughters in an abandoned house 17 years ago; and Ra, another daughter’s cat who came to live with us when her new rental didn’t allow pets.

It’s true – I did call all of these cats my “precious bubbas”. It’s true – I did speak to them in a high-pitched baby voice. And it’s also true that I occasionally (maybe more than occasionally) kissed their furry little heads between their little pointy ears. During COVID-19 lockdowns, Nichi and Ra became my constant companions, curled up close by while I worked in the spare bedroom.

I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve been slyly referred to as a crazy cat lady for years by my family and friends. This has been borne out by the range of gifts I receive – cat mugs, pictures, salt and pepper shakers, ornaments, plates, aprons, cushions, earrings, necklaces, brooches, scarves, even cat Christmas decorations. At least three-quarters of the birthday cards I receive have a cat on them. Nothing wrong with that – I owned being a cat lady. Until, quite suddenly, I was a cat lady no longer.


Surprising discovery

Last year, Nichi and Ra died within seven weeks of each other just after their 17th birthdays. I would have gone to the local pound and chosen our next cat cohabiters quickly, except we were packing to move. So, we decided to wait a few months until we settled into our new house. We packed the cat beds, blankets and bowls – and then it happened. Or rather, didn’t happen. The hay fever symptoms I thought I’d suffered from for the past 40-odd years, kept under control by daily antihistamine tablets, simply disappeared. Completely. I was allergic to cats!


To be honest, this possibility had crossed my mind before, but I had chosen to ignore it. But now that we were cat-free, and I was itchy-eye-runny-nose-sneeze- free, I had a decision to make. I’d been the cat lady for so long ... so, do I remain the cat lady and allergic – or do I not?

(Big breath) I’ve chosen not. My family couldn’t believe it – just take the tablets, they said. But I’ve decided; I am officially no longer a crazy cat lady.

It’s interesting to consider how something that has defined you for a long time, even in a jokey way, can change so quickly. And I think it happens regularly throughout our lives because we are often defined by how others perceive us.

The flip side to that is that we, of course, also define others by how we see them. I think of some of the boxes I mentally put people in because of how I’ve identified them – this person is so talented and generous with their knowledge; this one is inexperienced but thinks they know everything; this one is kind and hospitable; this one is inflexible, and so on.

Changing perceptions

We also define ourselves in all sorts of ways, and that’s often a changing landscape, too. Are you defined by being a parent? You’re someone’s mum/dad around school, footy and netball clubs, church and extended family. It’s a busy role that takes up a decade or so of your life, a hectic time of juggling the demands, joys and struggles of a growing family. And then – the kids grow up. Your identity as a parent changes because being a mum or dad of adults is necessarily a different relationship altogether.

“How others see us is a part of life, but it’s so good to remember that God sees us, too.”

Are you defined by your career when the hours of each day are consumed by the responsibilities and expectations placed on you by your employer and your own ambitions? Everything about your work is so important, such a high priority in your life – until it’s not. When you leave work through retirement, retrenchment or other reasons, it can be unsettling to realise that life at your former workplace simply goes on without you.

Maybe you are defined by your appearance, your sporting or musical abilities, your wealth, your health. Perhaps you feel defined by mental health issues or your constant search for regular employment, a place to live, for financial security.

How others see us is a part of life, but it’s so good to remember that God sees us, too.

Self-perception

I love the biblical story of David, the shepherd boy who went on to defeat the huge warrior Goliath. His position in the family defined him as the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, so he was seen as relatively insignificant. When God directed the prophet Samuel to go to Jesse to choose the next king of Israel from his sons, David was so inconsequential that he wasn’t even there to be introduced to the prophet.


But God rejected all of Jesse’s other sons, causing Samuel to ask if there were any more. David was fetched from the paddocks where he was tending the family’s sheep, and Samuel knew straight away that this young teenager was the one who would be king.


God said to Samuel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel chapter 16, verse 7).

We don’t have control over many of the life experiences, attributes and perceptions that may define us, but we do have control over how we think of ourselves.

God knows what really defines us – the good and the not-so-good. But more than that, as the first book in the Bible tells us, God made us all in his likeness.


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