Christopher Harris

There is no feeling better than being chosen.

It was true on the school playground, where nobody wanted to be the last person left unpicked for dodgeball. It's true when you look at the cast list for the big school play, eager to see which, if any, role you'll play. It's true in the mating dance, it's true when you raise your hand in a crowd, and it's true in politics — though that's something most of us experience only by proxy, when our candidate wins. About the only time it doesn't feel good to be chosen is when you get an audit notice from the IRS — but there's always an exception to prove the rule.

Being chosen means you've been found worthy. Someone, or something, approves of you. The person that you are has made an impact on those around you, and you've been noticed. We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. We all want to feel validated. Being chosen is how that happens.

In some cases, it just takes a little bit more time than others.

Many of you might have read my column from July 24 of this year, about my cat Mozzie. Yes, I'm a cat person, and unapologetically so. Single person, living with a cat. Make your jokes. It's okay. We just connect. They're relatively low maintenance, independent in spirit, and represent nature's perfect killing machine shrunk down into an adorable form capable of being held and petted. I admire that about them.

Mozzie died back in July, and for the first time in years, I was the only living being in my house (well, the only welcome one anyway — spiders and houseflies, not so much). It was an adjustment, to be sure. No one greeting me at the door when I came in. No one to feed. No one to need me.

I like being needed. It makes me feel like there's a point to my existence. It's often hard to suss out what that point might be — only God knows for sure — but when I have a furry friend who nearly trips me as I walk to the kitchen in an effort to procure food, I begin to understand my purpose a little clearer (for the record, that purpose is apparently feline caterer).

But, as with the end of most relationships we have in life, I needed time to grieve. I wasn't ready to rush right back out and get another cat. The house was just going to have to be empty for a while. 

For one thing, the idea of me choosing a cat was an odd one — they always chose me. Ever since I was a kid, if I had a pet, it's because the cat appeared outside my house and decided, "I like you. I'm going to rub up against you. You're my person now." I'm a cat whisperer, I suppose. But I never went to the shelter, never adopted one, anything like that — I was always just kind of chosen by them. Which, again, is a great feeling.

So when I finally decided it was time to get a new cat — and I ended up getting two, on recommendation from a friend who had rescued a litter of kittens that otherwise would have been likely put to sleep — it was weird to be the chooser rather than the chosen.

About half-a-year-old or so, Abbie and Jenny came my home a couple of weeks ago. I named them, as I do with almost all the pets I've had over time, after characters from my favorite TV shows; in this case, Abbie and Jenny were named after the Mills sisters on the late, great Fox supernatural thriller "Sleepy Hollow" — anyone out there remember that one? 

They were aptly named — not only were the kittens also sisters, but their personalities reflected the kittens. In the show, Abbie and Jenny experienced a run-in with the demon Moloch as children. Abbie shied away from the truth her whole life, and only came to accept what she saw as real when confronted with a bizarre turn of events as an adult. Jenny, meanwhile, didn't back down from what she experienced and spent her life running around the world, kicking butt and fighting evil. 

Once they arrived at my house — which for creatures of habits like cats must have been about as unsettling as encountering a monster demon — Jenny was the brave one, confronting her new situation head-on. She rubbed up against my legs, would come out to explore, and even let me pick her up and pet her. Abbie, on the other hand, ran into hiding immediately, and wouldn't come out for days. Every time I found where she was hiding and came close to her, she'd dart away and find somewhere else to cower.

I have to admit, this was difficult. I understand the animal mentality, the fear of the unknown, the need to protect one's self, all of that. But it was hard not to feel a bit rejected. I wasn't used to this feeling when around cats. Like I said, they always came up to me. I always felt good around cats, because they showed me they trusted me and thought I was a worthy creature to be around. I wasn't used to one being scared of me. I wasn't used to a cat saying, "No, I don't want to be around you." Much as it was an adjustment for Abbie, it was an adjustment for me as well.

I questioned whether taking Abbie was the right thing. Initially, I was only going to take Jenny, but thought they might like to have each other's company when I'm at work. Now, I had a tiny, frightened animal in my house who was clearly miserable and didn't want to be there. I didn't want my home to be a place where a sweetheart like that is miserable. I wanted it to be a happy place. And moreover, I wanted to feel loved and accepted. That's what I get from cats that I need psychologically. This one was making me feel bad about myself. Not only that, but she was hurting Jenny's acclimation to the new environment as well — when Jenny would come out to explore, Abbie would cry and Jenny would go into hiding herself to be with her sister.

After a few days, the ice finally broke. Despite her best efforts to socially distance from me when she'd come out to eat, Abbie got close enough to let me pet her. The next day, she cautiously allowed me to do it again. That was all it took to see that I wasn't so bad. Yes, I'm tall, way bigger, and loud, and I probably don't smell like what you're used to, but I'm good people. See? 

Now, two weeks in, Abbie is actually the more clingy one. She's the one that hovers around my feet when I'm trying to walk — stagger? — into the kitchen, while Jenny goes on ahead. She's the one more likely to curl up in the crook of my knee when I'm on the couch watching TV, while Jenny might be somewhere else being active. And she's the one who looks happiest when I pet her and scratch behind the ear.

It took a while, but eventually she chose me — they both did. I have what I need out of this dynamic: feeling loved, feeling needed, feeling appreciated. And I'm back to my usual raison d'être of being a cat caterer, it would seem. I'm okay with that.

All the people in your life who you choose and the people who choose you — each and every day — let them know what they mean to you. Remind them of how much you appreciate their trust in you, their selection of you over anyone else, as a partner, a friend, or whatever relationship you have, and let them know what it is about them that makes you choose them. Little reminders never hurt. Like a purr or a little furry head-bump, they make us feel good about ourselves and our place in the world. Sometimes, it's nice to be told — even if you think it's assumed.

You choose the people you love. The people — or pets — who love you choose you. Man, that feels good, doesn't it?

CHRISTOPHER HARRIS is a staff writer at the Commonwealth Journal. You can reach him at charris@somerset-kentucky.com.

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