Love Wins

I was once a cat hater. Brought up on dogs, my world view was shaped by slobbery kisses, exuberant wagging tails, and good-natured, “always ready for adventure” personalities.

I had all sorts of preconceived notions about cats and their world: sandpaper tongues, elusive behavior, “I’ll decide when I want you” attitude, claws, and so on. I lumped them all into a single category and held firm to my opinions, despite the fact that I had never spent much time with any of their breeds.My mother was a cat lover. She had them as pets growing up and tried to convince our family to get one on several occasions, but we would hear nothing of it. We were beagle people. And then later rescue-dog people. Cats were out of the question

©1969 The Huntsville Times

In 1969, with my first dog, Molly Maroney Mathews.

Knowing this, imagine me at forty-three years of age, with my two daughters at the local animal rescue shelter. They suggested that a fun activity on the hot midsummer day that was upon us would be to have lunch out together and then go pet dogs at the shelter to give and receive some love from them. I said yes. They said nothing about cats. Well, maybe they did. But I tuned that out.

After petting the pups, they said, “let’s just stop by the cat room on the way out, shall we?” It seemed harmless enough.

I should report one important incident before we continue. A year or two prior to this shelter visit, when picking up our border collies from the kennel after a vacation (my little family had become border collie people by this time), a cat that was staying at the kennel long-term hopped onto the desk as I was paying our bill. She was allowed roaming privileges because she was staying at the kennel so long and had become part of the family there.

As I was writing out my check, she perched on the desk next to my checkbook and inspected me. I ignored her. The next thing I knew she stood up on her hind legs, leaning over to me, and gently placed her paws on either side of my neck. She proceeded to knead my neck and shoulders as if giving me a tender massage. I had never experienced such a thing. It felt like a laser beam of love being sent right through her soft, little paws into my body. At that moment, without thinking, I said these words: “If I ever find a cat like this, I will adopt it!” I told the story to numerous friends afterwards, shocked that these words had come from my mouth.

Now, back at the shelter, my daughters called me into a side room with a few adult cats. “You have to meet this cat,” they said somewhat urgently. I sat cross-legged on the floor as they placed an orange, domestic short-hair in my lap. Purring, the four-year old named Daisy stood up on her hind legs, leaned toward me and placed her paws on either side of my neck, giving me a gentle massage. As she did, she rubbed her nose on mine and blinked her half-closed eyes slowly, purring continuously. She seemed to be in a state of bliss I could not understand but that I quickly felt myself.

“We have to adopt her,” my daughters said emphatically.

I remembered my words. I knew the truth of them and the truth of my daughters’ plea. Even still, I felt sweat on my brow and a tumultuous anxiety inside. I couldn’t breathe. How could I possibly adopt a cat? The idea was unfathomable to my thinking mind, but all too clear to my heart mind. I pulled a volunteer shelter worker aside, peppering her with questions in a staccato stream. What about claws and furniture? What if she doesn’t get along with our dog? What if, what if, what if? I hoped desperately that something in her answers would affirm that we couldn’t possibly adopt this cat, and I could go back to my long-held worldview. Instead, the answers I received only reassured all my concerns. Nonetheless, my hand was shaking as I signed the adoption papers. This was for life.

She didn’t seem very attached to the name Daisy, so we renamed her Cat, after the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s whom she resembled. She responded favorably to the change. We learned that she was very vocal and began to understand the meaning of her meows. We meowed back and had delightful conversations. We began to recognize her “love eyes” across the room as the message they were to each of us. Meowing to catch our gaze, she would give a long, slow blink and a slight nod of the chin that was clearly deliberate and spoke volumes to our hearts. We always returned the same blink and nod. Over the years, we began to initiate it ourselves, to which she would always respond in kind.

We received endless face rubs along with the kneading, paw massages that had first won our hearts. Our dogs’ love for us was gregarious and physically palpable, laying across our laps, licking our faces, or wagging with such fervor that their whole bodies moved in unison with the wag. Cat’s love was tender but insistent and ever-present, not just in her physical touches but in her meows and her eyes. She taught us a new language of love.

Perhaps the hardest to convince was our rescue hound, Holton. He took a few years to soften, but Cat was patient. Eventually she would win him over. My heart skipped a beat the first time I found them curled up together napping. She delighted in grooming him almost daily, licking his ears and face, and he delighted in being groomed.

I became a cat proponent. I gave unsolicited testimonials about my previous prejudice and my newfound love of felines. I wondered how I had ever lived without Cat in my life and feared having to ever live without her. Of course, I knew the day would come.

After 12 years in our family, at the age of 16, she passed gently into the higher realm and seemed to know the transition was at hand. I believe she was ready for it.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi

Texting with a friend about her death, he responded: “Cat made you a cat person! She has her place in history!”

She does have her place in history— in my history. She dismantled the barriers to love I didn’t even know I had. She needed no sword or shield. My entrenched prejudice against her species was no match for the power she wielded: LOVE.

To my dear Cat—whom we affectionately nicknamed Kitten— I thank you for your life with us, for being so steadfast in the face of my resistance, for making yourself a core part of me, and for never wavering in showing me that love wins.

PHOTOGRAPHS | Cat WATCHING Dog © 2018 LUCY MATHEWS HEEGAARD; LUCY WITH BEAGLE MOLLY © 1969 THE HUNTSVILLE Times; Paw and Hand © 2020 Lucy Mathews Heegaard.

Mo(U)Rning In Minneapolis

“…until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mourning-in-Minneapolis-©2020_LucyMathewsHeegaard

Many friends and family have reached out to my spouse and me to see how Minneapolis is doing right now, so I took a drive through some of our city neighborhoods this morning with my camera. Click the image above to see the photo story.

PHOTOGRAPH ABOVE | A Community Mourns © 2020 Lucy Mathews Heegaard.

The Apron

A souvenir apron from New York City in 1964 becomes an enduring love note from my grandmother.

November 19, 1964. My grandmother—on her first and only trip to New York City from Alabama where she lived her entire life— bought this apron on the day I was born. 

After waiting a week for my birth, never venturing far so that she and my grandfather would be ready to take care of my sister while my parents went to the hospital, my grandmother nor my mother saw any signs that my arrival was imminent. With a return train to Alabama booked for the next day, my grandmother and grandfather went out to sightsee.

I would like to think that they made it to all the sights and attractions shown on the apron. I wish I knew exactly where she bought it, but the sheer fabric, the muted yellow color, and the pink accents make it clear to me why she chose it. It looks like so many of the delicate, feminine things she cherished during her lifetime. 

Near the end of the day, while my grandparents were still out, my mother went into labor. Not more than a few hours after I was born, my grandmother and grandfather arrived at the hospital to meet me. 

The fold lines on the apron are indelibly creased into the fabric, and there are no signs of use to indicate that my grandmother ever wore it. I take that to mean it was a treasure to her that she wanted to keep in pristine condition for me so that I would have an artifact of the day I was born. More importantly, I believe she kept it this way so I would always have evidence that she was there.

PHOTOGRAPH | The Apron © 2017 Lucy Mathews Heegaard.

On Doing the Right Thing

Why does “doing the right thing” often conjure thoughts of hardship, as if doing the right thing is synonymous with sacrifice? What if, instead, one simply did the right thing for the reward of doing the right thing?

The photo below is from Glendalough, “Valley of the Two Lakes,” in Ireland where a sixth century monk named Kevin (Coemhghein in his native tongue) made his home. In this place, the legend of Kevin’s love for nature and animals was born— a legend that Irish poet Seamus Heaney borrowed over a thousand years later to craft a reflection on doing the right thing.

Glendalough_Ireland © 2014 Lucy Mathews Heegaard

A few years ago, when I heard Irish poet Seamus Heaney introduce his poem “St. Kevin and The Blackbird,” I was touched by his description of the story as “a little meditation” on “doing the right thing for the reward of doing the right thing.” (more…)

An Ode to Light (and my Sister)

 

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” ― William Shakespeare

For the last decade, if not longer, I have lit a candle every morning while I sit and sip my coffee to start my day. My family, very familiar with this habit of mine, thoughtfully chooses nice candles as gifts for me because they know I won’t splurge on the fancy ones for myself. Diligently conserving them so that they last as long as possible, I’ve always been careful not to let them burn too long each morning.

But all that changed on Christmas of last year, all because of my sister. Her gift to me was light, an abundance of it. Two big boxes were filled with individually wrapped presents, all for me. Each present was labeled, one for every month of the year. The accompanying note was titled “The Light in Lucy’s House.” (more…)