I admit it! I'm a crazy cat lady. I'm one of those people who, if I was to decorate my house, would do so in "cat" - cat clocks, furniture with feline designs, cat salt and pepper shakers. You get the picture. You may be wondering how my husband of almost 28 years stands it? It's quite simple - Laurence is a crazy book buff. For him, a house is a place to store books in - and living space is what's left over after all the books are placed. When we moved here some 23 years ago, the first thing to go in the moving van was his books. If my spouse and I quarrel about anything it's about whether a box or a room gets used for cat rescue or book warehousing.
And maybe this is the secret for staying together for a very long time. It's finding someone who is as eccentric as you are. My mother has this saying when someone describes another as being unmarriageable: "There is a lid for every pot." My father-in-law has a less generous comment that he shared with my mother at Laurence's and my wedding - "Good thing they found each other - no one else would have them!"
In Hebrew scripture we read that after God made the heavens and the earth, he fashioned a man but noted, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Indeed it is not good for man or woman to be alone. Mother Teresa said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty." And while I maintain that the need for a reliable source of clean water, nutritious food, safe housing, and education is paramount, I do agree that feelings of loneliness and alienation eat holes in our hearts and souls. They push people to search for love and acceptance in places that will make them feel worse, not better. Prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction, gangs.
Even people who stay on the "straight and narrow" face a much greater risk and degree of heart disease and depression if they are lonely. I will never forget the study known as "Harlow's Monkeys" where monkeys were separated from their mothers at six to twelve hours after birth and were raised alone with two 'surrogate' mothers - one made of wire that offered formula, and the other providing only soft terry cloth. The baby would get the food from the wire mother but quickly return to the cloth surrogate to cling to. But even having access to a comfort object wasn't enough - these monkeys became severely mentally ill and, in time, unable to form healthy relationships of any kind.
What is the answer, especially if you haven't found the lid to go with your pot? People in a Faith tradition pour their hearts out to God and receive comfort from their Creator. They become part of a church family where people genuinely miss you when you aren't there.
Whether or not you are a part of a Faith community, you can adopt a pet. Pet owners, and I'm speaking from statistics as well as anecdotal evidence, have significantly less heart disease and depression. In one study, a group of men who had been in jail were given the opportunity to have a cat to keep them company on their release. The recidivism rate of cat owners was dramatically lower.
The lid to my pot, Laurence, wishes to add: "Notice Jan said 'a' cat to keep them company, 'a' cat. Not 'several' cats ... they'd have no place to keep their books!"
Jan Carrie Steven, MA, RSW, is Chaplain, Volunteer, Counselor and Small Business Person.