In the early spring a marmalade kitten was born somewhere on the Rectory property, probably in the old carriage house. I have seen it around for months. Last month, on nice days, it took to basking in the sun outside my office window. It was a poor, skinny, little thing. After a couple of days of watching it grow even skinnier, I finally gave in and put a bowl of cat food out for it. I knew if I did so, even once, then I would become responsible for him. I am trying to tame him before the snows come so I can take him to the vet to get his shots and be fixed so I can find a good home for him. But, like so much in life, when I began I did not realise how much time it would take.
After the very first day of putting food out for him he started spending all his time on the porch. He would hiss at me every time I went out and dart away at full speed. I began by going out with his food and just sitting there quietly several feet away until his hunger overcame his fear and he would come and eat. This took about an hour the first day. Every day I would sit a little closer and it would take a little less time for him to begin to eat. Within two weeks he was eating out of my hand. A week later he was letting me touch him for brief moments whilst he was eating. Now he comes into the Rectory to eat his dinner before darting back outside to curl up on my front door mat to sleep. He still hisses at me whenever I approach but his heart does not really seem to be in it anymore and he begins softly mewing at me after the initial hiss. Many afternoons he now sits in my office window and watches me work. If I stare at him for too long he will hiss at me. Still - there he is watching and waiting.
This afternoon I walked out to the Glebe to watch the sun setting on the autumn leaves and the cat followed me. Whilst standing there softly whittering away to him he suddenly started rubbing up against my legs and turned on his back playfully and began to purr. When I bent down he did not run away as usual but rather kept pushing up against my hand to be scratched and petted. This was the first time I had seen him acting like a normal young cat. Then the spell was broken, he hissed at me and took off running. Still, he followed me back to the Rectory and is currently asleep on the welcome mat outside my door. We will see what happens tomorrow.
I studied psychology at University and even have a Masters Degree in Pastoral Care and Counselling. I know about behavioural psychology. I know that rational arguments seldom work in changing people’s actions. As the psychiatrist Gordon Livingstone says “It is difficult to remove by logic an idea not placed there by logic in the first place.” Thoughts and feeling follow from changes in behaviour not the other way around. So why is it that I always try to reach people by reason? I keep trying to ‘force a green nut out of it’s shell’ instead of waiting for it to dry. I simply try too hard. Way too hard. I become worried and anxious and think that if only I can find the right argument to show why an action is foolish, destructive, or dangerous the person will swerve away back onto the safe path.
One of my most firmly held maxims is that you should pay more attention to what people do than what they say. They may be hissing at me, but still, there they sit watching me and waiting. Why do I consistently ignore my own maxim and pay more attention to the hissing than the watching and waiting? Why is it that with a feral cat I can sit patiently and calmly for hours and try and love it into safety but with people I try and argue them into good decisions and get easily frustrated when it does not work? It is as if, in a situation where I can no longer use words, I am aware of exactly what I am doing whereas when I use words I forget. I have been called to ‘Fish for People’. Fishing takes commitment, patience, and perseverance. It is a long term strategy for the good of the one for whom you are fishing. For my feral cat, I am trying to save him from the brutal winter that I know is coming but he doesn’t. It is no different with people. I must not keep forgetting that even if I am the one who casts out the line it is God who reels them in – in his own time. Lately I have been reflecting that it is too bad God did not call me to be a Fisher of Cats! I might have been better at it.