“You’ve got to come see this cat,” my mom texted me. We’ve been on a mother-daughter-dogs trip in Cambria and I was across the street in a little whimsical shop chatting with the owner about the sample of Tulsi tea he had just procured from his glass tea pot. She had been waiting in the car with our two little minions of French Bulldogs in their matching red sweaters that made them look like Thing 1 and Thing 2 when she sent me the urgent message. The three of them had been doing their daily dose of people watching while they waited for me and I thought, “A cat my mom thought worthy of texting about?! Hold on tea-riffic shop owner, I’ve got a cat to see!”
He was the fattest, orangest cat I had ever seen. Garfield reincarnated! Sunshine was what I heard him called and I could see the resemblance. But I can imagine his nickname didn’t come from his appearance, but from his being the light of his companion’s life- a rugged looking man, cup of coffee in hand and gnarled teeth but the most joyful smile I’d ever seen. I went to buy tea from the cafe he and his snacking cat had set up shop outside of and on my way in he asked me how my day was. When I quipped back with the same question he smiled from ear to ear, said he couldn’t be better. His smile, his energy and his answer told me he had all he ever needed. He had sunshine above his head and another in cat form napping next to their small box of belongings that read: “Heading to Alaska, any help would be appreciated.” They emitted such joy we wanted nothing more than to see them finish their adventure to the great north, so we took the change we had left over and gave them what we could. He gratefully took the gift we gave him, put it in a little pink pouch in their box and then proceeded to give me so much more.
“You see that sunshine?” he said. And his little ball of fire came wandering over with his stiff gait on legs that could barely carry his rotund figure and the two shared a tender moment of gratitude with gentle hand to furry head. “You’re going to Alaska?” I asked. We are just going for the day, the kind old man said. Wow, I thought, Alaska for a day. His mom and he had always wanted to take the ferry out of Sitka, he said, so that was the current dream- to live that day he and his mom had planned. His destination was just one day, one part, because it was all about the journey. Each day was special when there was so much beauty he was going to see in Oregon and Washington and Canada and everything the world had to offer in between here and Alaska. I want to write a book about Sunshine, but not a Peewee Herman children’s book, he said, I want to write a travel guide from his perspective and all the animals he’s met along the way. You know, he said, everybody knows about State Street in Santa Barbara, but how many people know that if you go down the road and walk to the very end of the beach, there’s one little spot where you can see the giraffe’s heads from the zoo popping up over the trees? Giraffes and the beach, I had chills move across my whole body and I felt his story in my heart. There was no doubt in my soul that he would make his story come to life. He made it come alive for me and I’m sure he has for every other person who has taken the time to learn a little about his wandering soul. There was nothing specific he said to me that made me cry the tears I cried after leaving his presence, but there was a purity in his heart that made me remember why I think we are here. To love, to explore, to appreciate each day as it comes and to spread the joy we see in the world wherever it may be, even and especially in the simplest of things. For us all to find our own place to see the giraffes from the beach. All he needed was love for and from his cat, and for and from this beautiful world. And that’s all we ever need- to open our hearts.
About a month ago, I found out my grandpa has cancer a day after a close family friend passed away and I was shaken by the fragility of life. I never thought anything could bring down the energizer bunny. I was scared. It was a gateway for me to be scared of not only his cancer, but of life. The fearlessness with which I lived and my connection to the present moment started to disappear as opening your heart to anyone, loving anyone became a possibility for losing them at any moment. Adventures became a joy to fear when you thought about if the people at home were okay rather than reveling in the life energy of the people who were present, alive and sharing a journey with you. Momma reminded me that we can’t be with every one at every moment, and we have to connect to others, ourselves, the world, source, in whatever form that may be for you, because it makes life less scary. It gives us something to live for and life becomes more than this tangible level of existence. Death and life become less scary when you connect because connections transcend tangible form, they never die, just as this man’s connection to his mother lives in their shared dream of Alaska coming to beautiful fruition. You can’t hide from your emotions because you’re scared to connect for fear of loss. Your heart makes life worth it, she said. The way you connected to that man, that was your heart, and that’s where you have to live from.
I did connect to him. His heart touched mine because his sought out love in every form and ignited a recognition of the state in which my heart lives best, a home it wants to return to. It caused me to involuntarily shed tears from a place I had tried to shut down because I didn’t want to suffer if that place opened too much, opened to possibility of loss. But he reminded me it was still there and it needed to be recognized, respected, taken care of and listened to. He reminded me that my heart was alive and not only can’t, but shouldn’t, be hidden from. Because if you have that heart connection to the world and to those around you, what more do you need? You can take that connection, need nothing else on your back and travel lightly, as will he and his cat, to anywhere you wish in this world, or if you want to get wonderfully crazy, the universe.
I don’t know where he and his little ball of Sunshine began, but I know they will end this journey in Alaska having touched many hearts along the way. He touched mine and I believe that if we all took the time to get a fist bump from a stranger, even someone you might not expect one from, the world could slowly destroy its misconceptions, grow its compassion and its empathy. So if you’re anywhere from here to Alaska and you see this man and his cat, tell him I said hello and tell him you said hello. Or for that matter, if you see any man or woman and their cat, dog or simply their own light, tell them I said hello, tell them you said hello and then go find your giraffes.