Napoleon the Cat

My adult years looked a lot more like a roller coaster than a smooth yacht ride; prone to extreme ups and downs. During my 20’s, I had a hard time finding a place that felt like home. Ohio was too full of memories that I didn’t want to process. So, I left to build a home elsewhere.

Along the way, I spent several years living in Dallas, San Francisco, as well as Los Angeles and New York City. Each of these cities had an important lesson to teach.

My time in San Francisco was where I grew out of my 20’s and into a more grounded adult life. Distance from Ohio seemed to be helping my heart heal as I quickly immersed myself in a loving group of friends Steve introduced me to when I joined him in the city.

It felt incredible to contribute to a community of friends, as well as spend time getting to know Steve as an adult. We spent most of our 20’s apart from each other and had the opportunity to reconnect, as brothers, in San Francisco.

Steve always had a knack for knowing when I was in pain and meeting me where I hurt. He didn’t try to snooze the pain I felt, or try to explain it. Rather, he pushed me to feel all of the pain; integrating it with my life so I could heal from it.

Your scars become your strengths. Steve, too, carried his share of deep emotional wounds. The two of us spent many nights in his kitchen, drinking tea and sharing our experiences with each other.

It was a bit like our own version of table time, minus the Do, Re, Mi’s and paddling.

“Behold how good and how blessed it is for brothers to dwell together.”

The two of us communicated through really difficult subjects, including our childhood, relationships, and career. We communicated well because we didn’t see the other person as being broken – somehow in need of fixing.

Whenever the two of us spoke, I was reminded of the insatiable good that can come when two people are authentic with each other – and to their own pain. Healing doesn’t happen when you cover a wound, but when it is cleaned, scrubbed, and bandaged.

Our conversations brought a lot of healing, humor, and joy. I felt at peace whenever I walked to his apartment by Dolores Park.

On many moments, we’d stand on the sidewalk and enjoy the beautiful SF weather while we shared details of our day with the other.

I was so happy to share the same city as my best friend – who happened to be my brother – while we both sorted through the pieces of our lives.

Steve never cast a shroud of judgment on me, either. No matter how poor the choice I made (there were many) Steve would find a way to lovingly communicate his thoughts, or correction.

For most of my adult life, I carried broken pieces of my heart and didn’t want to let anybody come near them. I learned to paint on a big smile and appear to have things together. All this did was hemorrhage the pain I felt inside, causing it to go deeper.

I felt like a ship without a captain, or father figure.

Steve lovingly took these broken pieces and worked with me until they became my strengths. I’m thankful Steve was the wind in my sails – steering me when I lacked my own direction or feeling of purpose.

I learned the important lesson that no matter how much you hurt, you can help another in need. You don’t have to have a lot of money to help somebody else, either. 

Compliments are free.

You learn a lot when you let yourself break. None of us are strong enough to stand on our own, apart from community and loved ones. Pride makes us think we can do it on our own – only to abandon us when we need a hand…or a hug.

Sometimes the universe sends a person along to give you that hug. Other times, you heal your hurts when you help others.

I learned this lesson while befriending a stray cat. On our afternoon breaks at the office, Sepi and I would walk outside to feed the stray cat community which lived in a vacant lot.

Sepi was a bit like the pied piper, attracting a small herd of cats whenever she approached with fresh cans of cat food and bottled water. She has a way of communicating with animals I still can’t explain.

One day, we were approached by a small black cat. He looked frail and weak, with glazed eyes that signalled he wasn’t healthy.

We lovingly dubbed him “Napoleon” because he looked like he could use a strong name.

Sepi emptied several cans of food into a makeshift bowl and poured Napoleon some water. Cautiously, he walked to the food and began to eat. Seconds later, he darted back into the vacant lot.

This cycle went on for several days. Eventually, Napoleon (Napo, for short) grew confident and healthy as he happily surfaced for his daily meal.

His eyes lost their unhealthy glaze and his small frame began to put on weight. Napo was getting healthy! The two of us discussed finding him a home.Things were looking up for Napo.

Days later, Napo was nowhere to be found. Sepi walked in the vacant lot, shouting out his name (and doing cat-speak) in hopes Napo would appear.

Napo never appeared.

A few weeks later, we spoke with another caretaker for the cats who sadly informed us of Napoleon’s fate.

One day after Thanksgiving, he found Napo’s cold body curled up in a small ball. Lifeless.

Tears fell as we counted the loss of Napoleon. He wasn’t just a stray cat – he had a name and people that loved him.

I’ll never forget that day, or the lesson behind it. The lesson taught me that no matter what stage of life you’re in, you can always help somebody else (or a small cat) in need. When you heal others, you’ll often find yourself healed in the process.

I think all of us have a little bit of Napo inside of us; a lost, thin, hungry, and stray part of our soul that is hesitant to love and trust others. Yet, the universe seems to provide these parts an opportunity to heal and grow.

In spite of all of my hurts, I discovered that giving unconditional love to those around you (or a stray cat) is the surest way to discover it within yourself.

Rest in peace, Napoleon.


Photo by Lizzie George on Unsplash

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