It might be nine years to the day, but I can’t be sure, that this little cat arrived at my apartment door early early one morning. I could hear a cat in the hallway of the apartment building where I lived, which was odd since it was 5 AM. And as I came closer to my apartment door I spied this wee paw feeling under my door, the back of my door and calling out. I opened it; she walked in, sat at my feet, and peered up at me with huge eyes. I said ‘oh boy, you do not live here.’ Three weeks later she did.
Matilda, or Tilda as my Dad nicknamed her, was an amazing little feline of healing and hope for me. She was the first pet I owned complete, all mine, just me, and just her. I had never really considered owning a cat, and ironically, the man who became my husband was the one who told me that cats pick people, people don’t pick cats – that pretty much solidified it for me, if she had chosen me, I was all in.
Tilda filled a hole in my heart I wasn’t aware existed, but it sure felt good to have her around. Her sheer presence brought me comfort. She was small, and loving, and furry, and confident. She provided a bridge to build a very strong relationship with my youngest stepdaughter and gave me a place to put some of my love. I loved having her on my team. I loved her sense of humour, her games, her beauty, and her voice.
After months of trying to figure out what ailed her, she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. As I assessed each option, I kept landing on the fact that she, in essence was starving and would continue to starve until she died. Any intervention would cause her more distress, and would only prolong the inevitable. I had to make the decision to euthanize her; it was a club I never wanted to be in, a power I neither welcomed nor desired. I did not want the responsibility to end a life, any life. But I would have also, never allowed anyone else to own it.
I know that death is part of life, and I know that having pets means losing pets. But I don’t think I will ever be prepared – for these moments, these decisions, and these deaths.
It was agony – pure and absolute – agony.
As with any pain, there is an opportunity for growth. I’m sure I am not fully aware of all the things I may have learned or how I have grown. But I do know that the people I have surrounded myself with, trusted, and openly conveyed my pain to, reciprocated a million fold. No one said, ‘it’s only a cat’, no one said ‘stop being dramatic’, no one told me what to do, they only, provided information, experience, and kindness…such kindness. I was as hurt as I can ever remember being. And no one used that to their advantage and no one dismissed me, or my emotions.
And what I learned about leadership is that friendship and love-ship are their own style of leadership. When we build our foundation on one of authenticity, and honesty; when we show up for people because it’s the right thing to do, when we leave our own stuff to tend to their stuff, when we share our experiences and show empathy, when we listen, let them cry, and help them find their way when the road ahead is foggy – it is those that comprise the bricks of our foundation that stay for the long ride when our life takes a hard right. They gently move into the lead by way of love and kindness, and abundant patience. They take the wheel because you cannot, or they hold the wheel while you find your focus and in this case, muster your courage.
I am so grateful for the texts, the calls, the visits, the messages, the insight, the shared experiences, the kindness, the hugs, the love…the leadership.
That little wee cat will forever be in my heart. She will have forever made me better. She is a piece of my past, and my future. I believe with surety that animals go to heaven, and if I play my cards right I will too.
Will I get another cat? I think I might just leave that to God, maybe He’ll show one the way to my door or my driveway, or my inbox. I promise to be ready to be picked when they get there.
Sometimes leadership means letting go, it means being open to the fact that life derails us just as much or as often as it can our team. That circumstance can reduce our capacity and where the best decision is to defer the command for the betterment of the whole.
Maybe sometimes leadership means – not leading.