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July 27, 2018

It was almost three years ago that my son and I were walking out of the gym together on our way home, me from work and him from a workout, when I heard a tiny sound that stopped me in my tracks. I asked Matt if he heard it too, and he said he didn’t hear anything and why am I stopping and could we just go home now, please. But I insisted I knew that sound—a kitten’s cry—and I glanced around and down to find a tiny, black-and-white furball looking up at me from deep in a hole carved into the parking lot (a storm drain, I think), covered by a large sheet of metal. The baby cat who looked back up at me was no more than three or four weeks old, crying incessantly, dirty, shivering, and out of my reach. The metal cover was too heavy for my son or I to lift. I ran into the gym to get help and as I was explaining to my coworkers what I’d found, my son, then 15 years old, walked into the gym with the trembling kitten in the crook of his arm.

I decided it was mine.

I’ve had a lot of cats over the years, but I had no experience with cats that small, so I called a friend who does and brought my son (still cranky) and the kitten to her, where she fed and cleaned it as best she could and told me what supplies a not-yet-weaned kitten would need. I dragged my (now very cranky) teenager to the pet store with me, publicly bullied my husband into adopting the cat (thank you, Facebook), and brought all the stuff back to Liz who agreed to foster the kitty while I prepared my home and my family for a new addition. The baby’s ears were still pinned back; it was not yet able to walk; it was scraggly and smelly and still too tiny for its sex to be determined. I firmly believed the Universe had seen fit to finally grant me a daughter.

His name is Yogi.

People assume I named him because of my work, my practice, my life, but actually, Yogi was named for the great Yankee catcher, Mr. Berra, who’d died just that week. When we finally brought him home, he was still being bottle fed, was not yet litter trained, and needed his bottom stimulated in order to pee and poop (mama cats usually lick their kittens’ bottoms to stimulate elimination after they’ve fed). Yogi was walking well by that time, and at night he’d sleep on my head, suffocating me. If I pushed him off, he’d just climb right back on. His purr was loud, his needs many, and he was instantly entrenched in our family dynamic. Even my husband, never a cat person, adores him. Yogi can’t help but make you love him.

Now when I come home after a long day, or even a long hour, and I lay back on my bed to mindlessly stare up at the ceiling fan, Yogi appears out of nowhere and sits his adult cat self on my chest, his weight pinning me to the bed, his loud purr vibrating through my bones, his nose in my face. When I curl up with a book, he settles into the crook of my arm, always purring, making it difficult to turn pages. Every single night as I settle in to sleep, Yogi appears and finds a part of me to settle onto—my hip, my butt, my back (thank God not often my head anymore) and sleeps. Yogi generates unconditional love like factories generate steam. He loves every member of our family, but Yogi is my cat. The Universe gave him to me.

In the years since, David Bowie died. Donald Trump was elected President. I lost my mom to lung cancer less than six months after she received the diagnosis, and a few short months later, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Now I have to build up my courage and emotional fortitude to call my father (sometimes it takes me days, I’ll admit), to face the reality that the man who was my anchor for my whole life is drifting deep into the fog of his own mind, never to return.

When I get off the phone with my Dad—whether the conversation was lighthearted or freakishly scary—I lie back on my bed and stare at my ceiling fan, and Yogi appears from whatever hidey-hole he’s been nesting in. He jumps onto my chest and gives me back the unconditional love I’ve been drained of. He was given to me by the Universe one Sunday morning three years ago, but the gift wasn’t a one-shot deal. Yogi is a daily reminder that in spite of darkness, and indescribable loss, in spite of drudgery and desperation, the Universe grants us the gift of unconditional love daily. It’s right here, right now. It’s on my chest, or in the crook of my knee, or by my side (he seems a bit annoyed, frankly, that the laptop is in his spot as I write this).

And I know—I know—that even if the Universe didn’t gift you with an actual Yogi to love you, if you look up from the screen you’re reading this on right now and glance around, you’ll see the small signs that you are loved. Maybe it’s a photo on your nightstand or an afghan your grandmother knit or a book a friend recommended, but if you look, just LOOK, you’ll see that it’s right there to comfort you. To show you that you are indeed loved, deeply and unconditionally. And no matter what your struggling with, no matter how awful, if you let that tiny reminder of love in, it will keep you from drowning in the madness that is living this difficult, wonderful, maddening, horrible, beautiful life.

The circumstances of my life often overwhelm me. My sweet little Yogi, right now leaning against my leg, reminds me daily that I’ve been given a precious gift, a treasure, a small but persistent offering from the Universe, or God, or whatever you call it.

There’s a word for that tiny offering. It’s called Grace.