I have never felt closer to divinity than sitting in a stuffy little room which smells of cat litter while singing a lullaby Bast helped me write to three nearly feral kittens. They fled at my approach, five days of safety and good food not yet enough to win them over, and stared at me with wide, reproachful eyes as I sat down just inside the door. Then I started to sing – the lullaby first, my voice a little weak from the last traces of a cold. Glancing inconspicuously, I found at least one little face turned my way, though two still hid. I moved on to the songs that have brought me peace over the years, old hymns and spirituals and various songs collected from choir and pop culture. I had two sets of eyes watching me, then, and a still resolute back turned my way. I kept singing; songs that remind me of Bast, of home, of the undeniable divine spark in music from other religions, other cultures, other times. I peeked again and saw all three kittens facing me now, the bravest with drooping eyes and the wariest with unwilling curiosity. My voice could take no more so I started humming whatever gentle tunes came to mind the way a mother might idly hum to her crying babe. When I looked next I could see two little white bodies stretched out in their hiding place, no longer bunched up with the need to fight or flee but relaxed in weary sleep. Even the third had succumbed to so drowsy a state that when I slowly, so very slowly rose to my feet my movement woke, yet startled, no one. I whispered my goodbyes to three little watchful faces that seemed, at least to me, slightly less wary and took my leave for the night, praising Bast for the gift of music as I closed the door.
Kitten Fostering as Service to Bast
My wife and I have been fostering kittens for over two years now. It all started one night when she called me during her shift at the local humane society and said hesitantly, “So… I’m bringing a kitten home,” as if I might refuse. Right – me, refuse a kitten! The little ball of black fluff she brought home was only a few weeks old and had been dropped off at the humane society after hours. With no one else to care for her over the weekend, Chriselle had no choice but to take the kitten back to our apartment. We named her Phedre, and she lived with us until she grew into a two pound monster who loved chewing on her foster moms – at which point we sent her off to her forever home and took in the next kitten. And the next. And the next. In the last two years we have fostered over forty kittens and that number will only keep growing. For Chriselle, it’s just who she is; she works to save animal lives all day, and it’s only natural to her to come home and keep doing that. For me, it’s about service to Bast; I know the cats She brings into our lives need us, and I could no more refuse Her than I could refuse Chriselle that very first time.
This service isn’t always easy, though – nor does it always end in a kitten finding their forever home. Sometimes it ends with us losing the kitten. Thanks to Chriselle’s veterinary skills and a little extra luck from Bast we’ve only lost three kittens so far, but each time hurts like they’re one of our own children. It’s so, so difficult to lose a foster. You blame yourself no matter the circumstance, because at the end of the day you took charge of that tiny life and ultimately let it down. It doesn’t matter that the three we lost all died of unknown and untreatable diseases – I will always carry the guilt of that failure. It’s just who I am, and who Chriselle is too. Animals are our world and we’d willingly lay down our own lives for any of them. We carry the memory of our lost ones close, and I know we remember them each time a foster has a close call.
After the loss of a foster, I have to remind myself that Bast brings each kitten into our lives for a reason. With the fosters we end up losing, I believe that reason is two-fold. One, I believe it’s because She knows we will properly mourn every little life and will never forget a single one of our fosters, even those who were only on this earth for a matter of days. They deserve remembrance, and they will remain in our hearts forever. Second, I believe it’s because She knows the loss won’t break us. We’ll cry together, yes, and deal with our anger and guilt in separate, probably not totally healthy ways, but we won’t stop fostering. We’re prepared for the hard parts of fostering kittens – the loss of sleep and free time, the fleas and vomit and diarrhea, the potential at any moment for a life to gutter out no matter our efforts – but not everyone is. A lot of folks who foster only want older, healthy kittens who will provide the most amount of cuteness for the least amount of effort. And during “kitten season”, when the shelters are all overrun, that’s okay! Thousands of healthy, happy kittens need foster homes until they can be adopted. But we know, and Bast knows, that we’ll always opt to take the risky little runts over the sure-bets any day. It’s who we are, to both our blessing and our detriment.
I absolutely couldn’t do this work without my faith in Bast, and I absolutely couldn’t do it without Chriselle. I’m so lucky to have a partner who is strong, patient, and an endless well of love and caring. Her veterinary knowledge and dedication make it possible for us to foster day-old kittens who need hourly bottle feeding or sick kittens who need constant care and vigilance. She provides the medical support – I just provide the love and prayers. Together, we seem to make a pretty good team. It’s a tough road, no lie, yet I still kneel at Bast’s altar once a week and tell Her, let me do Your will in this world. And this is how She responds.
There is nothing more beautiful, nor more humbling, than an animal’s trust. You are such a fragile little thing, and yet your clear green eyes gaze up at me without fear. Despite the language barrier between us, despite the fact that your young life is just a candle flicker in my hands, you trust me without reservation. There is no concern in your gaze for how easily I could break you, but surely your instincts warn you of my size, my weight, my ability to become the predator. Your innocence, instead of being foolish, is astoundingly wise; your trust, instead of making you vulnerable, makes you a powerful player in not only your own destiny, but mine as well. We cannot communicate in our native tongues, yet so much understanding seems to pass between us. You see me, Little One, more fully than any of my own species. To be recognized so clearly, to be blessed with your whole and absolute trust as I cradle your tiny form in my hands, is a gift like nothing else. If anyone ever questioned your sacredness, they need only experience this moment of understanding which needs no words to awe and humble. Surely only the divine can grant such an honor.