“She’s very friendly and trusting,” he said, as he paused, Scotch-Tape in hand, to watch me study the homemade Xerox photograph he’d just affixed to a nearby tree. “She likes to sit on the front lawn of that house across the street and greet the walkers and joggers as they pass by. I don’t know why she would’ve run away or where she might have gone.” By now, tears had started to form in his eyes and I knew immediately that “Mattie” was more than just a “slim, female cat” to this grown man – and the creator(s) of the signs, who no doubt had sent him out on his mission of love and hope. “I know her,” I said, “I used to walk here all the time – and did for years. I’ve seen Mattie, even stopped to chat with her, and you’re right, she has a kind spirit and a special heart. I just started walking again, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for her and to let you know if I find her.” “Thanks,” he replied with a smile, comforted (I convinced myself) that there would be at least one more pair of eyes, albeit a stranger’s, searching for something he (and his family) treasured.
As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that I’ve known lots of “Mattie’s” through the years. Young and not-so-young women (and men) with kind and gentle dispositions, eyes wide open to take in the world around them, hearts eager for others to take notice, sensitive, quiet, trusting, often unassuming, who, one day, inexplicably disappeared or went into hiding. I wondered, as I often do with the two-legged “Mattie’s” I’ve encountered, what it was that made Mattie feel as if the world would somehow be a better place without her sitting proudly in the green grass of that corner lot (day and night), without her ears perking up every time a stranger walked by, without her barely discernible purring intended to let friends and strangers alike know just how grateful she was that they paused long enough to notice and spend time with her – without her smile. Maybe it was all quite unintentional, I thought. Maybe it started out as curiosity and before she knew it she had forgotten her way home. Maybe she’d taken ill and decided she didn’t want to be a burden. Or, maybe, someone with ill-intentions had taken advantage of her trust and stolen her or, mistaking her for lost, decided to give her a home.
If only Mattie knew, I thought to myself. If only she knew that her loved ones were hurriedly plastering her face, her bio, and their contact information on every tree trunk in Coral Gables, desperately hoping someone, anyone might find her and bring her home. If only she knew how profoundly her sudden disappearance was impacting their lives and just how much they would willingly sacrifice to have her back. If only she knew that even those of us who never even knew her name, but had grown accustomed to seeing her sitting in the shade on the corner of North Greenway and Casilla, were saddened by her absence and eager to help her find her way home. “Surely, if she knew she matters so much to so many – that she is cherished, that she is missed – surely if Mattie knew all of this she would want to be found, to come out, to come home . . . wouldn’t she?” I wondered. And then I thought about the other “Mattie’s” I know and I realized it isn’t and likely never was that simple – that being found, stepping back into the light is far more challenging than those who have never been lost realize.
I typically don’t go on my walks with intention. I prefer, instead, to go out with an open mind and an open heart and let both lead me where they may. But, at least in the near term, Mattie has changed all of that. In the weeks to come, finding her and reuniting her with those who love her will be the inspiration and sole purpose of my walks – and there will be more of them because of her. Who knows, maybe one day she will see me and remember me as someone who once stopped to notice her, as someone who took a moment to care, who is gentle, who she can trust – and she will come out of hiding and take a chance on being found. It’s really the least I can do and all I know how to do – that and hope. Hope that one day, I will turn the corner and there she (and all the other “Mattie’s” in my life) will be, basking in the sunshine, eyes and ears tuned fully to the world around them, content in the knowledge that she is both noticed and loved and that she always has been. And, “Mattie” if you happen to stumble upon this post, please come home. Your loved ones are waiting!