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Learning Patience: Lessons From a Cat and a House

August 1, 2013 | By | 2 Replies More

learning patience

My sweet Sophie Joy

Several years ago, when I was single, my cat, Sophie Joy, found me.  She had been living in an abandoned home that was being renovated by a local banker named Don.  I really wanted a dog, but my 60-mile commute made for long days away from home, and I knew it would be impossible to properly care for a dog.  The way I ended up with Soph went like this:

Don:  “Hey, do you think you might want a cat?”

Me:  “No, I don’t really like cats that much.  I want a dog when I get a job closer to home.  Besides, I’m allergic to cats.”

Don:  “This little brown cat is living in my house, and I’m almost finished with the renvoation.  She’s pretty friendly.  Why don’t you come by on Friday afternoon and take her for the weekend?  You know, see how it goes.”

Me:  “OK.”

I kind of liked having the little brown cat around.  She was sweet and more affectionate than most cats.  I called Don to tell him I would keep the cat, and I named her.  A few weeks later, Sophie suddenly started acting really weird and began hiding under the bed, behind the toilet, and even in her covered litter box.  Not only was she no longer affectionate, she wouldn’t even let me touch her.  I was heartbroken!

learning patience

Soph, in our “single girl” house.

I read books, did research online, and called my Mom for help.  Sadly, nothing helped.  I could tell that Sophie was miserable.  I would peek at her under the bed and plead with her to come out and play, but she would just stare at my crying face, wide-eyed and scared.  I told her I loved her and promised her she was safe, all to no avail.

Then, one night, I found the name of a cat therapist online.  The website touted the woman’s expertise in working with troubled cats and promised results.  In desperation, I grabbed my credit card and paid $150 for a one-hour phone call.


Later the same week, I sat on the floor of my laundry room next to the litter box where Sophie was hiding while this woman with a pronounced New York accent talked baby talk to my cat.  In a sing-song, high-pitched voice, she said, “Sophie Jooooyyyy, isn’t THAT a pretty name for a little girl?  Why are you so scaredy, Sophie Joooyyy?  Don’t you know your mama loves you?”  I knew I’d made the right decision to keep this little “therapy session” to myself – I had been too embarrassed to tell anyone – until now of course!  After giving me some “homework” to do with Sophie, the last thing the therapist told me that night was to hang in there because “cats teach us how to be patient.”

Learning Patience

Every night after work, I came home and tried to gently coax Sophie from her hiding place using her toys and the therapist’s advice.  When she didn’t budge, I cried, got frustrated, and walked away.  Sometimes, I got angry at her and thought about giving her up.  Then, one night, she came out from under the bed all by herself – not to eat, not to use the litter box, just to come out.  I didn’t pet her because I didn’t want to scare her or make her run.  I just watched as she used her scratching post and went back under the bed.  Every night, she spent more and more time out in the open.  Over the next several months, things got much better for no apparent reason.  Now, Sophie Joy is a happy, quirky, loving, sweet girl that makes me smile every single day.  I’m so glad I didn’t give up on her!

learning patience

Yes, really. This is our kitchen.

Sophie taught me a real lesson in patience, but I know I haven’t mastered the skill.  I’m now getting another big lesson with the renovation of our new home.  When I think of everything that needs to be done and fixed, I get overwhelmed.

So much of my head state is dependent on cleanliness, order, and beauty. Right now, our home is ugly inside, our yard has several garden beds that are overgrown with weeds, and the kitchen has just been gutted.  When the place looks like it does, my husband and I don’t have our usual motivation to pick up after ourselves.  Instead, we leave pool towels balled up on the floor, dirty laundry on the floor next to the bed and dirty shoe prints on the floor.

The previous owner of the house is a successful business man who split his time between our house and another in Cape Cod.  It’s clear from all the things he failed to maintain and all the things that were done on the cheap that he just didn’t love our little house.  Maybe to some people it sounds superficial, but I think it’s important to love your home and do right by it.  When you cheat your house, cut corners, and let it all go downhill, you’re not honoring the life that happens within those walls.  Maybe it’s my Libra nature, but in my mind, I can clearly see the life I want and it’s all happening with our soon-to-be-great new home in the background.  I’ve always taken a lot of pride in my home – not because I feel the need to be showy, but because I thrive in beautiful surroundings.

learning patience

Digging up a weedy garden bed

Maybe I need this house to teach me to be patient, too.  Maybe I need to get excited about the small steps along the way like last weekend when I started digging up one of the worst garden beds on the property.  It was hot and humid, but I kept digging out the weeds, unwanted plants, and sickly, half-dead rose bushes until I looked up and realized that I’d done quite a lot.  It felt great to be creating a clean slate for a new garden that fits my personality.  I already have a new crape myrtle that will be planted there once I make more room.

I just saw photos of the newly tiled floor in the sunroom, and it’s exactly as I’d hoped.  Gone is the totally barfy, golf club themed green carpet!  The old powder room is gone too, along with the faulty plumbing.  Our new appliances are sitting in their boxes, waiting to be installed along with the new light fixtures we picked out.

learning patience

Anyone interested in a golf-themed carpet remnant?

When I return from my business trip this week, I’m sure I’ll be astounded at all the things that are better.  Maybe I’ll be so excited, I won’t even think about all the painting we’ll need to do or the fact that we still haven’t gotten our furniture and most of our belongings out of storage.  Maybe I won’t wonder when things will return to normal.  For now, I will need to measure success in small amounts, just like that first time Sophie Joy came out from her hiding place for no reason at all.





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