Chores on our farm have been rarely routine since a batch of four male kittens was born in our barn a few months ago, delivered unceremoniously in the corner of one of the horse stalls by a first-time mother. There was a horse occupying the same stall and the new little family was staying warm next to a fresh pile of horse manure. Once we moved them and their mama to a safer spot, they thrived, becoming more adventurous by the week.
Once in full adolescent glory, they enjoyed all aspects of barn life: mock fighting each other, scrambling up and down hay bales, using the shavings as their personal litter box, teasing the dogs and best of all, doing rodent patrol. They remained close buddies with the horses, rubbing against their legs and enjoying nose-to-nose sniff sessions. They are best of friends with their tall equine buddies in the light of day, but at night it’s another story.
Each evening as I come out to do chores in the dark of early autumn dusk, I must walk each horse one by one back to their stalls for the night. This has become anything but routine thanks to four young cats who glory in stealth attacks. They are like mountain lions in the shadows, waiting for their prey to pass by. Two are tabbies, one is black and one is gray, all four perfectly suited to be camouflaged in the misty fall evenings along a dimly lit pathway between paddocks and barn. They flatten themselves tight to the ground, just inches from where our feet and hooves will pass and suddenly they spring into the air as we approach, hoping for a reaction from either the horse or myself. It never fails to unnerve me, anticipating and fearing the horse’s response to a surprise cat attack. Of course, the horses are used to kitten antics all night in the barn and are completely bored by the whole show. However, the tension from me as I tighten on the lead rope is like a warning message passed by an electric current to the horse: their head goes up as they sense there must be something to fear and they react, anticipating the worst scenario. The dancing and pulling on the lead rope begins and continues down the pathway as four rascally cats stage themselves strategically all the way to the barn.
By the end of bringing in eight horses for the night, I’m done in by my own case of nerves.
You’d think I’d learn from my past experience with this routine, knowing what has happened every other night, and stop fearing the potential of a horse running away with me. I might actually enjoy the show and start laughing at these feline pranksters. They are hilariously consistent in the hiding places they choose, in their attempts at guarding the barn door and their occasional miscalculations that land them right in front of a hoof about to hit the ground. Why I haven’t had at least one squashed kitten by now is beyond comprehension. Yet they survive to torment and delight me another night. Once I’m done with chores, I cuddle each kitten for a moment, flop them on their backs and tickle their tummies while scolding them for their contribution to my graying hair.
So it seems I’m a slow learner. There are so many little fears which seem to hide in the routines of my day, distracting me from the here and now, ready to spring at me without warning, looking much bigger and more threatening than they really are. I’m a highly skilled catastrophizer in the best of circumstances. If I have a kitten-sized worry, it becomes a mountain lion-sized melodrama in no time. So I step back, take a deep breath, and remember God is always in control of what I cannot possibly imagine. If I learn to laugh at the small stuff, then it won’t become a “cat”-astrophe as I grab those fears, turn them over on their backs and tickle their tummies until they purr. Then I’m the one enjoying the magic of the moment.
I’ll try that the next time I feel that old familiar sensation of “what if?” making my muscles tense up and my step quicken. I just might tolerate that walk in the dark a little better, whether it is a turbulent plane flight, a worry about exposure to a pandemic virus or a concerning diagnosis, an overwhelming feeling about paying this month’s bills, or wondering how the election will change things or not amid the general uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring.
I’ll know that behind that mountain lion-sized worry is a soft loving purring fur ball, granting me relief from the mundane, for which I’m extremely grateful. Life is, after all, an adventure to be experienced with a mixture of grace, forgiveness and patience, especially when I can’t be sure what might come at me next along the journey.