Three Lessons I Learned From My Cat

by Dr. Debra Payne / Sep 15, 2010 / 0 comments

Hello everybody! I disappeared from Wandering Educators sometime late last January. I, the Wandering Editor here at WE, am a perpetual tourist, but there have been times when life has called for staying in one place and doing a bit of reflection. Last year left me cold and, sometime around last February, I think I actually froze for while. I went through a pretty big heartbreak, so big that I thought that any sort of recovery just might not be possible.

I’m over it, though. I am actually over it, and doing better than ever. Here’s a little story about how I did that and who helped me:


Three Lessons I Learned from My Cat

My son found an abandoned kitten in the Ogden canyon last winter, while he was out jogging in the mountains. When he and his wife left for the Peace Corps not long afterwards, they left the cat with me. They were off to Central Asia for two and a half years, and asked me to kitten-sit.  Olive, given that name for the color of her eyes, stayed with me as I waved goodbye to my kids, who were on their way to Kyrgyzstan.  I was given strict orders regarding the care and feeding of this animal; people who’ve left newborn babies in my care have left far less explicit instructions.  Olive was clearly a very important baby kitty! Little did I know she would provide me with a few learning opportunities.

I was happy to see my son and daughter-in- law fulfill a dream they had had for a long time and I supported them, but of course I was very sad to see them go to a faraway place for such a long period of time. When they left, it was just me and my newly acquired kitty cat. I had just gone through a divorce, and their leaving seemed to underline my solitude. I don’t remember a time when I’ve felt more alone than last winter.

It was predictable that I’d become very attached to the cat. Jokes abound about lonely people who lose all perspective and treat their cats like humans. These poor people invite their cats to sit at the dinner table, chat or gossip with them, and even ask them to pass the asparagus. Luckily I didn’t turn into a crazy cat lady, but I did spend a lot of time with Olive, the formerly abandoned kitty.

Since that winter, Olive has grown from the scrappy, scrawny multi-colored thing my son found shivering alone in the mountains to a thriving, graceful hunter who proudly brings in half-dead dragonflies into our living room. I’m doing a lot better now, too, in spite of the disgusting, writhing bug-victims I regularly have to pick up off the carpet. I’ve learned some lessons since that lonely winter, and here’s the crazy cat-lady part: I attribute much of it to wisdom I gleaned from watching Olive, my guru kitty.

Here are three lessons I learned from my cat:


We’ve all been abandoned or dropped on our heads in one form or another, perhaps even repeatedly so. Olive, once a shivering, bony kitten taken from her mother too soon and left to die in the canyon, is now a confident, elegant queen. She is strong and her fur is lustrous, and she has no issues. She has moved on.

I can, too. Yes, rejection hurts. But it doesn’t have to hurt forever.


Initially, I tried to make Olive be an “inside cat,” in the interest of protecting her from dogs, mean others cats and mean people, and cars. I soon realized that, for Olive, this was impossible. She would lunge for the door every time it was even slightly opened, and she’d practically knock anyone over who happened to be standing in her way, just so she could run outside. As she got bigger, I got the sensation I was fighting a wild animal.

We finally compromised, or she won, and I installed a cat door for her. Olive, as much as humanize her, is, after all, a cat, and she needs to go outside and do cat things, like climb trees, chase birds, and kill innocent dragonflies.   

I, too, need to be who I am. Humans are a lot more complex than cats, of course – if only going outside were the answer! I can, however, be my authentic self, diminish my need for approval, and do the things that are true to who I am.


The third thing, closely associated with cats but seldom with adult humans, is to nap. Granted, my cat does not have a job, and unfairly so, I have two jobs, but the term “catnap” exists for a reason. 

Short, ten minute rests in sunny spots every now and then are infinitely possible, and should in fact be a requirement for silly people like me.

In sum, my cat is one smart feline. If you’re looking for a moral to my little story, I am not sure there is one. However, one observation I have made is that unexpected learning opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, and that sometimes our teachers meow.


Debra Payne, PhD is the Wandering Editor for Wandering Educators