Year ago, my mother gave us a small hand-carved nativity set. At the time, we had two kittens, and they could not—would not!—keep their little paws off the tiny figurines. We’d find Yun-Sun running around the house with a lamb in her mouth, or Godiva playfully knocking one piece after another off the chest of drawers where the scene lived during December. One day, we came home to find that Mary—the Queen of Heaven—was missing, clearly kidnapped by a mischievous feline. We recruited a random shepherd to take her place by the manger for the rest of the season, giving a new meaning to the idea that Jesus had two daddies.

From the beginning, the cats have been woven into the very patterns and routines of our lives between these four walls. Matt would be quick to tell you that he reached the pinnacle of “perfect husband” in 2005, the year he bought me a little house, a grand piano and two kittens. And indeed, it was the perfect package for someone who had long identified not with one of the characters from Sex in the City, but rather with someone from a Rosamunde Pilcher novel, where the vocabulary focuses mainly on important concepts like: cottage, garden and restoring drink.

For 15 years we have lived a language of cats, music, books, wine, friends, colorful walls, wooden floors and black and white tiles, dinner parties and cocktail corner, house plants and gardens, candles and hot baths, needlepoint pillows and hand-made quilts, early mornings with coffee and evening walks under the stars. We had the corner on “cozy” before it ever became a brand. We often joke that we have the world fooled that we are interesting people when our entire dialog at home consists mainly of, “Oh my goodness, these cats are so sweet.” Every night the four of us—two cats, two humans—would crawl into bed and Matt would say, “Look! We’re all here.” It is the best time of every day.

We have been worried about Godiva for a while. She hadn’t been eating well and had been losing weight. Two trips to the vet had ruled out anything obvious and easy to treat. I had begun hoping that she would just hang on until things—life, the world in general—were easier. In such an awful time, it didn’t seem too much to ask, really.

Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, Godiva had a stroke. We had to put her down on Wednesday morning. That morning while we were waiting for the vet to open, the four of us sat on the couch, like we had so many mornings. “We’re all here,” I thought to myself. I wanted it never to end and, at the same time, I wanted it to be over. A few hours later, with Matt’s hands on both of us, Godiva died in my arms, on the lap where she had spent so much of her 15 years.

You can only deepen a practice when you think you don’t need the practice. Forget lofty intentions of enlightenment or deep work. That Wednesday, the practice was simply to get to the end of the day. After we came home without her, Matt spent the afternoon writing a long Facebook post about Godiva; I spent the afternoon on the couch, staring. “I just need this day to be over,” I sobbed to Matt as darkness finally began to close the curtains on that horrible day. The next day was Thanksgiving, the first day without Godiva in it, that realization bringing on a fresh wave of tears and pain. I can do Thanksgiving, I told myself. I will bake pies and mash potatoes and sit outside in the courtyard with my husband and parents and brother around the fire in the chiminea and eat dinner. I can do this. At dusk I took a long walk, escaping my house with its ten thousand cues of our life with our two sweet cats.

Every day has its firsts. The first morning without my Godiva routines, the first day of teaching without her in my lap, the first time I meditated with my legs up the wall without her lying on my chest, the first day I sat at the piano without her next to me on the bench. There is such a hole without her. She stole not just the Queen of Heaven, but a physical piece of our souls.

Maybe this was never a year for deepening the practice. Maybe this was only a year to remember why we practice, why we center our lives around rituals and routines that give our days anchor and solid ground under our feet. Maybe that’s why we are eagerly putting up holiday décor these days, lighting candles and decking the halls, a sort of collective practice: we all so desperately need signs of light in this great darkness.

And so, in these short dark December days, as this horrible, awful, terrible year comes to an end, we stumble forward, grieving our losses, lighting our candles, filling in our practice charts of hope and sadness.


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