Today, in the shower, where I do some of my deeper thinking, I mused about how happy we were when we first got our kittens a few weeks ago, before we had any inkling they had every non-fatal but disgusting, highly contagious parasite and virus known to veterinary medicine.
When we awoke the morning after Wendy arrived, it felt like Christmas. Better than Christmas. We raced out of bed at 5 am to her crate to greet her, adore her, and coo. We thought life was going to be grand. Yes, she was feral and skittish, but we would teach her how to trust us, to purr, and play like a kitten. And that's what we did, in a matter of a few joyful days. Wendy's skittishness continues, but she gets a bit braver every day, which is a pleasure to watch. (Naturally, the kittens still bring us a lot of joy along with a lot of worries.)
Wendy is going to be a beautiful cat, and her personality will be quirky and complex, unlike Possum's, who is utterly loving, sweet, and trusting. Between the kittens and our teenaged cats, whose personalities are in fascinating full bloom, we have it all. Too bad that three of our four (so far) also happen to be sneezing, scabby, feverish, and/or oozing blood, with the potential for all of us to end up covered in sores.
That's life, I guess. I can't seem to cultivate a sense of zen tranquility and acceptance in the midst of all this. I just can't. Maybe if I didn't have to vacuum for so many hours a week and give so much medication....
I thought about how our joy evolved to worry, then shock, fear, and horror as we watched our cats and kittens get sick, and as we learned awful lessons about their real and potential illnesses. I wondered if all joys, brief or lengthy, are eventually alloyed with disappointment or sorrow. I think they must be — if we are honest with ourselves. When we're children, our joys are often pure: Christmas morning, trips to the amusement park, hours of happy play, birthday cakes. With our kittens, we were foolishly optimistic, and it was reinforced by the way our older cats tolerated the newcomers without any of the growling, fighting and bad behavior we expected. I know that not every new owner of kittens gets socked with the health problems we're facing, but in retrospect, we seem embarrassingly naive. I wish we'd been warned about worse problems than hissing, roundworms, and mild sniffles. I wonder if we would have listened. If people weren't occasionally foolishly optimistic, they'd never take a risk.
Maybe what differentiates adulthood from childhood is our inability to lose ourselves in unconscious joy for hours at a stretch. Adults know, on some level, that happiness is fleeting. No matter how much fun we're having, we also remember that we have underlying problems and worries. If nothing else, we realize that, somewhere not far away, other people are having much tougher times.
Or maybe I'm just neurotic. Maybe other people are capable of feeling complete happiness for days, weeks, or years at a time. I don't know any, but that may be because I'd consider them much too annoying to ever befriend.
All I do know is that I can't wait to feel naively happy again. I know it will happen eventually, probably as soon as I'm able to rehang the curtains, unroll the rugs, pull the bedsheets off the sofa, and stop spending hours zealously attacking germs every day. Probably many weeks from now, on the day we find out that our furry foursome are not contagious or sick anymore.
We're so much better informed than we were in September. But it's not the kind of knowledge that brings tranquility; I wish I didn't know so much about diseases that seem straight out of science fiction stories. I will never be brave enough to foster kittens or cats in our home now; to me, a kitten is a walking, purring germ factory. I may even be leery of visiting shelters from now on: cats can be highly infectious even when they show no sigs of illness. Disinfecting hand cleaners don't kill everything floating in the air. We owe it to our cats to protect them from what other cats may carry. Now we know.
But we're still not so wise, I hope, that we won't fool ourselves into thinking it's Christmas morning a few more times down the road.