a story this morning by a woman who has been working since 2007 to help a feral cat in her neighborhood, one Meathead by name. A number of things struck me about this story, especially as one in a helping profession.
First was how long it took and how gradual the process was. She started by setting out food behind the fence and now, three years later, he will, on occasion, sit on the author's lap.
Second was how specific this was. She didn't take care of all the cats in the neighborhood; it was this cat and one other who was with him.
Third, related to that, was that she couldn't save them both; the other died, "succumbing to the upper respiratory infection he had ever since I first saw him."
Fourth, also related, is that "saved" is a relative term. Meatie is not a housecat and will never trust people. I suspect he still hasn't been to a vet.
But the thing that was most powerful to me is that helping isn't a safe thing to do. This woman writes that "he has hurt me quite badly too many times, despite the fact that he only has one tooth in his head. He has a vicious paw strike capability, and those deep scratches hurt for days." And yet she doesn't stop with the efforts.
I don't want this to be a facile message about how we should help others even though they hurt us. It's more about how being hurt isn't necessarily a sign that you're doing it wrong, that if only you did it right, the other party wouldn't hurt us. It makes me think that I don't (necessarily) need to take it personally if someone lashes out.
There's something, too, about taking on the risk and allowing oneself to set the terms and limits. I'm not clear in my mind about this yet. I once preached a sermon that started, "Love does not mean being a doormat." I think there's a difference between love-based service and feeling responsible for the salvation of the world. I think it's legitimate to reach a point where you say, "I can't do this any more." Perhaps this is selfishness. Perhaps it is knowing oneself. I am struggling to find the balance. I guess all I'm saying is that being hurt comes with the territory of love.