TW: This post mentions suicidal ideation.
My husband and I have two cats. First, there’s Fig: a fearless, tailless, 22-toed wonder who lives to be outside, rain or shine.
Though admirable, her fierceness led to one too many scars — both on her (from all the animals within a mile radius that were dumb enough to take her on), and on us (for trying to pet the damn thing).
Our veterinarian recommended getting a second kitten while she was still young. That way, she could get her energy out without the risk of her getting run over or brutally attacked, and we could hopefully spend less on bandaids.
That’s how we ended up with our second cat: the sweet, cuddly, and wide-eyed Jimmy Carter.
The Story Behind The Name
His name has quite the story behind it, and it’s not just about my obsession with our country’s 39th president (though I am not embarrassed to admit that his Wikipedia page made me cry. What a man, what a man).
You see, back when I surprised my husband with our first kitten, he wanted to call her Gorbochev — in honor of one of his favorite politicians. Of course, we eventually landed on Fig. That was June 27th, 2022.
One month later, the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union DIED. Partly joking, we told everyone we had unintentionally played a part in his demise by not naming our cat after him.
When naming our second kitten, we certainly weren’t going to make the same mistake again. We were going to make the man IMMORTAL. So Jimmy Carter it was.
Then, exactly one week after we brought the feline former president home, the human one entered hospice care. It was all over the news.
Again, mostly joking but partly serious, we thought we had something to do with it. One of our friends immediately texted us, “Jimmy Carter’s soul is going to be transferred to your cat.”
However, here we are, three-and-a-half months later, and the son of a peanut farmer is still kicking. Considering the average time spent in hospice is only three weeks, we feel that all our fellow Jimmy Carter admirers around the world have us to thank for his extended life.
How I Unexpectedly Became a ‘Pet Person’
Since we brought the delightful little being home, we’ve kept Jimmy Carter theory going strong; we tell people all the time that our kitten is single-handedly saving the life of one of our national treasures. What I didn’t expect, however, is how he would save my life.
Even typing that last sentence feels odd, as I’ve never been someone who had super close relationships with animals. For one thing, I’m allergic to most of them, but I’ve often found myself scoffing at my friends who treat their dogs like they’re humanoid kin.
My two best friends could spend ages talking about their dogs. I’m talking hours.
But that all started to change when I flipped open Richard Rohr’s perspective-shifting and life-changing book “The Universal Christ” for the first time. Countless sentences in that book stopped me in my tracks, but it all began with the dedication:
Though I was tempted to scoff, or chalk it up to the friar not having a spouse or children of his own, I just couldn’t. This was genuine.
In some way that I couldn’t then comprehend, to Rohr, a dog was an incarnation of the divine.
Spiritual Experiences With Animals
Gradually, my attitude toward animals began to change.
When I got my hedgehog Buffalo a few years ago (from the parking lot of a Carls Jr.), I was unknowingly entering a metaphorical valley. Of course, we were still knee-deep in the pandemic, but there were other aspects of my life that had begun to unravel.
My husband got into the habit of placing Buffalo in my lap whenever depression took over. Over time, this anxious, hissing creature became my teacher.
I had to earn her trust by proving I was safe and wasn’t going to hurt her. Only when I was still and quiet enough to hear my heartbeat and see the rhythmic rise of fall of blood pumping through my veins would she calm down. Funnily enough, I would always find myself calming down too.
Sometimes, she would fall asleep curled up in my palm. Other times, she would press her wet nose into my skin and lick me. One day, when I was deep in depression, she looked directly into my eyes for what felt like an hour.
Jimmy Carter and Me: A Love Story
Although I had begun to open myself to spiritual experiences and a deeper connection with animals, I didn’t feel it to the extent that Rohr did until we got our beloved Tabby cat, AKA the light of my life.
By the time we adopted him, those aforementioned “aspects” of my life that brought pain and difficulty had increased tenfold. Getting another animal felt irresponsible and unwise, but I’m so damn glad we did.
There was an immediate mutual connection. He slept curled up by my face, keeping his mouth so close to mine that I could hear and feel his breath. To this day, every time I turn over, he crawls over my head to be by my face once more.
I’ve had many insomniac nights as of late, and instead of getting up or scrolling on my phone, I stroke and speak to the animal beside me. He loves the cuddles so much that his purs begin reverberating around the room and he gets on a mission to lick my lips, no matter how hard I try to stop him.
It brings me out of my seemingly endless cycle of bad thoughts and makes me audibly giggle. During those moments in the dead of night, I’ll often repeat two words to him: “Thank you.”
I never thought such a small, non-human creature could make me feel so loved.
How My Cat Is Saving My Life
The issues in my life came to a head about a month ago, and I ended up staying with my parents for a while. One night, the pain, fear, and self-hatred became so all-encompassing that I began to experience suicidal ideation. If you’ve been there, you know how dark and awful it all feels.
But when dawn came, so did my husband, with Jimmy Carter in tow. Knowing how much light Jimmy would bring me, he thoughtfully dropped him off so I could take care of him for a few days.
During that time, Jimmy Carter relentlessly stayed by my side. He slept closer and purred louder than ever.
During a time in which I felt incredibly unseen and unloved, he slow-blinked while looking into my eyes and loved me without conditions (aside from food and snuggles). There was nothing else I had to do to earn his affection.
If you know about or adhere to the Christian faith, this kind of love might sound familiar.
I Finally Understand What Rohr Meant
I brought all of this up to my friend recently. “Have you ever had, like.. spiritual experiences with your dog?” I asked, feeling slightly dumb as the question left my lips.
“Oh, all the time,” she said, before telling me about how she felt like she manifested him and will sometimes stare into his eyes and feel like they knew each other in past lives. Was she high on such occasions? Yes. But still.
That dog is more than just a subordinate animal that she plays with and takes care of. He shows her love in a way other humans are incapable of. And now, I feel the same way about my pets, especially El Presidente.
And yes, it’s highly unlikely that my cat has any power over the OG Jimmy Carter, who is spending his last days surrounded by family in the only home he ever purchased. But in surprising, mysterious, and seemingly small ways, he is saving my life.
Just like Venus, he is “Christ for me.”
There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything. – Colossians 3:11