I'm the Squid by Angela Townsend
I have a friend who never uses the word “creatures.” I’m not sure I’ve heard him say “living things.” If he is speaking of humans, senators, or the giant iridescent squid at the bottom of the sea, he refers to us exclusively as “beings.”
This is the finest theological statement I have ever heard.
As sentimental as a mollusk, my friend cannot inoculate himself against wonder. It leaks in half-smiles and single raised eyebrows: “That cat is as dense as a neutron star.”
“Armadillo is Spanish for ‘little armored one.’”
Best of all, and more often than he knows: “Do you realize the improbability of all of us beings being together at this moment of history?”
He is speaking of cats and humans, rumpled sweatshirts with tails and hooded bashfuls with nowhere better to be. My friend is the founder of a sanctuary for cats too broken for normal shelters, which means he is the founder of a sanctuary for people too breakable for humans.
“Consider all the particles that had to conspire – not to assign them intention – for all these beings to assemble.” My friend is most fond of cats with no shame, three-legged tyrants or decorated medalists of the Flatulence Olympiad. They are his friends, local celebrities for the volunteers and visitors who hallow the bare and the hairy.
If the photon is the basic unit of all light, tabby stripes bounce with the same lottery balls as nebulas. This is true whether they are new or dying, going supernova with feral rage or going out of their way to avoid the litter box. They are incandescent with ego, ludicrous long-tailed trust dusting the jagged world.
“I believe it was somehow in place before the Big Bang that this group of beings should be here now.” My friend won’t go so far as to say that these beings “belong to each other” – he turns wearily to me for such candy corn – but he looks around and sees what he has wrought. He sees what the rambunctious photons have put together, and he loves his life.
My friend protests that he does not love, much less like, himself. “I’m the squid,” he tells me when I tell him he is iridescent. “Fat and sloppy.”
There is a reason why, every few decades, when one of those squid surfaces, all the scientists cry “holy!”
My friend made a shelter where mercy compels the day. I am the uninvited chaplain, tasked with public relations but always falling into burning bushes. I am shoeless and smitten in all directions, carried on the backs of autocratic cats to a castle where even I may be kept.
I am not the squid, too small and dark to claim that many photons. I have been the Labrador, all my prayers and phasers set on “please.” I have been the preacher, trying to convince myself, “meaning upon meaning, all is meaning.”
In moments of abnormal rage, I have declared that I am the moon, light and powerful and allowed to pull the tides. I am often the armadillo, scales rattling at every flash of lightning.
I want to be the cat, the satisfied mind in satin. They prove nothing, turning tail from every theorem. They spill light but remain full. They love and like themselves, eyeless or incontinent or matchlessly ordinary. They are pleased that we are all here together, but they will be fine if tomorrow takes the improbables apart and puts impossibles together.
Sixteen years at the cat sanctuary have ruined me for unstriped metaphors. I apply the laws of the shelter like glow-in-the-dark war paint. We will only adopt cats into situations that are better than our ark; I will only date men whose company is sweeter than my solitude. I will likely be a lifer at the sanctuary.
I labor over essays and think of them as kittens. I struggle to place them in good homes, literary journals that will treat them tenderly. You can see their tiny spines on ultrasound in my notebooks, little lollipop heads lined up for the birth canal. Some of my kittens will never be adopted. I can’t stop acquiring more kittens.
“A community of love.” My friend rolls my overused phrase between his fingers, foreign but not false. “Yes,” he agrees. “It is a privilege to be here with these beings.”
He means the cats, but theology circles his lap. A gruff banker mops cat urine while a retired teacher lays like a glow worm beside a kitten. Bright stars and flickering wicks pet each other, claws sheathed. A former CEO acquires the name “Laundry Al” for his devotion to clean towels. Everyone cries for cats who are adopted and cats who die and cats who forgive more than we can compute. No one remembers to bring their abacus.
In strobe moments, I remember that we are all beings. Photons caress the just and the unjust, and we count neither the cost nor the qualities of our “residents.” The cats come because the cats are. The cats astonish because they have arrived. We love them because they came to be. Nothing less. There is nothing more.
“All these beings are here today. We are a lucky bunch.” Sometimes my friend’s sweetness is a wave, and sometimes it is a particle. Sometimes it eclipses his ego and gleams with grace that pulls the tides. It is enough to be here together.
Angela Townsend bears witness to mercy for all beings as Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She has an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and B.A. from Vassar College. Her work has appeared or will be published in upcoming issues of The Amethyst Review, Braided Way, Dappled Things, Fathom Magazine, Feminine Collective, oddball magazine, and Young Ravens Literary Review, among others. Angie loves life dearly.