You know kitten season is upon us when you walk into the rescue intending to take a dog from one location to another, and walk out of the rescue with the dog…and a kitten that now lives in your keffiyeh and cries whenever you try to put him down.
I don’t know you. Not personally. We’ve never met. But I love you. I love the way you move through this world, trying your best. I love the way you wake up every morning, even when it’s hard. I love you when you drag yourself out of bed and move forward with your day. I love you when you can’t do it today, and stay in bed and sleep. I love you with your hair done, and I love you even when you pick cheese balls out of your tangles.
I love you when you’re crying, smiling, laughing, or sobbing.
I love you, even when your monsters are winning.
I love you, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t love yourself. I love you without condition, without fail. I love you even if I walk away from you. I love you for you, for all your good and your less-good. I love you when you’re angry, when you’re scared. I love you.
One of the most frustrating things about existing as a person of color in our society is the subtle ways in which you are not considered a person.
I’m Arab. I’m Palestinian by way of Lebanon. I’m olive skinned, dark-haired, and I bellydance. I do a mean dabke. I wear a keffiyeh. I walk into grocery stores speaking Arabic and hunting through the meagre international aisles for a tiny taste of home. And people ask to take their photos with me. People ask me where my hijab is.
“How long have you been in this country?”
“Where are you from?”
“Wow you speak good English!”
I’ve had people explain to me that in This country we speak English, not “Muslim”…while I was speaking Dutch. Because any language that comes out of my mouth must be “Muslim.” Like I’m not an atheist born to Christian/agnostic parents.
It’s the people who start crying and talking about how difficult it must have been for me to leave my home behind, how happy I must be that that I live in a civilized country now.
I dunno lady, I was born in Germany.
It’s the people who stop their bicycles while I’m walking down the street to talk to me.
Do they have bicycles where you’re from?
Where I’m from? You mean Canada?
It’s the women in grocery stores who tell me I’m wearing a pretty scarf, like my keffiyeh is just a scarf, and not an important cultural symbol, like it doesn’t carry meaning. Like it isn’t my single most prized possession.
All the small ways we are made into novelties. Shiny caricatures of strongly held stereotypes, and no amount of correction seems to break their delusions of who we are.
My name is Aila. I foster cats. I like knitting, aquariums, and cooking. When I’m really excited about something, I jump up and down and I clap. I love punk music. I sing “You are my sunshine” to my children every night. I love deeply. I always do my best to be kind. I’m more than an object for you to make yourself feel good. Won’t you see me?
I’ve had a pretty rough couple of weeks lately. Things have been exceptionally difficult with expense after expense piling up, friendships ending, responsibilities overtaking me, and the loss of both a foster cat, and one of my pets.
It’s been overwhelming, but I’ve been okay. My community has stepped in to back me up wherever it can.
My friend Malorie has been helping me pick my youngest, Bug, up from school. Andy leaves work on his lunch break to drive Bug to his preschool class, and makes sure I have a key to his house so I can find somewhere quiet to catch up on work. Nathan makes me a lunch and leaves it in the fridge so I don’t have to spend time making my own. Mara drove an hour with her father in law to help me take care of some roommate business. Julia went and picked up my cat’s ashes so that I wouldn’t have to.
Multiple friends send me reassuring messages and reminders to eat and stay hydrated throughout the day.
I haven’t had community for most of my life, and having one now is a genuine feeling of ease and comfort. I don’t have to worry as much. I can help my friends, and they can help me. We weren’t built to live solitary lives, we were built to love, and to work and fight together to survive.
We can’t survive without a community, and the single most powerful act of compassion we have at our disposal is our willingness to risk everything to keep each other afloat. In a society where we often find ourselves subjugated, alone, and struggling, our most powerful tool is our willingness to love each other.
I spend a lot of time worrying if I’m kind enough. I always want to be the person who responds to a situation with compassion and empathy. And sometimes that backfires. Sometimes people take advantage of that empathy and compassion.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is to share that empathy and compassion with myself. It’s so easy to blame myself when people do things that hurt me. I desperately want to believe that we all get what we deserve, and that my actions towards others are always fair and reasonable, but that’s rarely how it works. Our decisions and perceptions are often colored by the various experiences we’ve had with our lives. Those of us who experience mental illness or trauma may see attacks where there aren’t any, or try desperately to help people whose actions intentionally or unintentionally hurt us, with no regard to our own mental health.
When people are hurting us, it’s okay to say no and to walk away. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means that we’re not the best person to help them right now. It means that as much as we love the other person, we also love ourselves, and we deserve to be treated with kindness.
I can’t fix people. I can lead them to resources to help them help themselves, but I can’t do the work for them. I have a responsibility to myself to treat me with the love and kindness I want to give other people. That’s easy to forget sometimes.
We live in a world where many of us struggle every day. We struggle to be heard, to be valued, to survive in a universe that seems set on making our lives as difficult as possible.
Some of us are struggling to pay the bills, to eat, to raise kids on our own. It’s hard and the world seems so full of pain.
Sometimes, even acts of kindness end up feeling like chaotic nightmares. There’s no such thing as perfect victims, and that’s never more apparent than when you’re bailing someone out of an abusive situation, only to have them turn on you in a misguided effort to keep themselves safe.
Even in cat rescue, there are weeks when you feel like there’s no hope. Like you can’t handle one more dying kitten, one more abused cat. Like there’s so many sad moments, and not enough wins.
Those are the moments when finding a sliver of hope in a vast, cold expanse of suffering feels impossible. These are the moments when it’s the most important to keep going. To keep fighting, to keep acting with kindness and love, even when it blows up in your face, even when you’re scared and hurt and afraid. Even when you’re not sure you can afford to hope anymore.
You are at your most punk when you’re creating that hope. Keep fighting. Keep breathing, keep going. The world is a better place with you in it, standing there, holding the line with your beautiful self.