by Angela Townsend
They did not give me money.
There was never a version in which they were going to give me money. The phantasmagorical gift would be to my organization, a nonprofit cat sanctuary. I was a mere shepherdess, raising funds like kittens.
But when you are Development Director for a place you love like a child, every dollar is personal.
Any psychology student would recognize that the cats stand in for my children. They number over a hundred, imperious waifs and orphans with a three-million-dollar budget. We specialize in the desperate, and they arrive as hopeless as screaming strawberry newborns. My empty arms burgeon with fur and furious purpose.
If not the cats, perhaps it’s the organization itself that is my child, this outpost of love among barbed-wire tumbleweeds.
My religion gets more disorderly each year, but everything I believe is spoken here. It is the preferential option for the poor. It is the yowling exaltation of the terrified, the victory of the vulnerable. It is unconditional love for the whole convulsing convocation of creatures. It is a 12,000-square-foot embrace on a planet with crossed arms. It is an orange-and-blue logo for mercy.
I’ve often thought that my donors are my children, these sailor knots of selflessness and yearning.
They sew themselves onto cattails and know themselves as breakers of chains. They are shy and hungry, leaking stories on my forearm. They need to be heard and believe that all broken beings will be loved. They read my newsletter and feel seen.
I am smitten seventeen times a day, swollen with affection for these honest, sensitive stars.
But just when I’m bleeding our logo’s orange-and-blue, marinating in motherhood, I remember: I am technically here to raise money.
Love of money is the root of evil, but love translated into money can do much good. It is kitten milk replacer and insulin, intensive care and sunrooms. It is the ink of the story we’re trying to tell, life overwriting death. It is the coin pressed into the innkeeper’s hand.
And today, my donors clasped their coins and passed on the other side of the road.
I tell myself this was not my fault. The economy is inebriated, and they are doing what they must. I scold myself for feeling wounded, sure that I misinterpreted their enthusiasm.
I hold myself against the chill of disappointment, standing alone outside my sanctuary, waiting for the first small stars.
I remind myself I am naive on an ordinary day, prone to forget that not all children remain childlike. Not every donor sees us as a parable. Not every bush is burning.
Not every “no” represents my failure to connect the cats and the cosmic, to love like a mother.
Every morning is redolent with cat food and day-bread. Every disaster unwritten is a dance against the dark. Every time we split open, reckless and lush, we glimpse the gatherer to whom all cats and dollars belong.
Angela Townsend has an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and B.A. in Anthropology from Vassar College. Her work appears in Braided Way, Cagibi, Hawaii Pacific Review, The Razor, and The Spotlong Review, among others. She is a 2023 Best Spiritual Literature nominee. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.