“I feel utterly hopeless,” she began, and when she told me her story, I understood why.

She was fifty-five and had recently sunk all her money into a house with a man she’d known for three months. For ninety days he had been her soulmate, but weeks after moving into the house they now owned together, he’d become an emotional double for her abusive, narcissistic father. She was stuck, financially and otherwise, and she looked it. She collapsed on my couch. Her face vacillated between pleading and shame.

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“I know what I need to do, but I don’t have the heart or the will to do it. It’s completely beyond my power.” Then she added, “I’m not a religious person, but this past week I’ve actually started praying. I don’t know why I’m doing that. I don’t even believe in God.”
“Do you believe in cats?” I asked her. I really did.

There is an old river birch just outside my office window. It’s a beautiful tree with gray and black bark. Birds come and go, sometimes squirrels. Each spring a woodpecker spends three or four days gorging on bugs. The tree has thin branches that sway with the wind and brush the small span of roof beneath the window. I arranged my entire office so that people sit beside the window and I can see that tree while I look at them. That tree—its life and the life it supports—is part of what sustains me as I work.

And now, as this woman spoke, up that tree climbed a completely white cat. It stepped onto the roof, walked quietly to the window, and just as the woman said the part about not believing in God but praying anyway, the cat sat down and rested its face against the screen, watching her.


“Do cats mean anything to you?”

She was looking at me, and the cat was outside her peripheral vision. So she was understandably confused by my questions, but she answered the second one. “Yes. I’ve got two cats, and they are a comfort to me. One of them especially. It feels like he knows when I need him. I’ve never been to therapy before so I was nervous about coming this morning, and he came and loved on me before I came. Why are you asking me this?”

I nodded at the window.

She turned and saw the cat. “Oh my goodness.” Then the cat reached its paw to the screen, towards her.

A chill ran up my back. In my mind I took off my shoes.

After a minute the cat stood, turned, and ambled away. She watched it go, then turned back to me. Her face, her entire body, had changed. “I hardly know what to say.” She waited. “There’s a lightness that’s come over me.” She waited some more. “Does that cat come up here a lot?”

And I replied, honestly, “I’ve never seen it before in my life.”
She scheduled a second appointment, then called a few days later to cancel it, saying she had decided to move out and her adult children were coming to help her. “That moment with the cat,” she said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever felt like something was protecting me.”

I never saw her again. Or the cat.

File under: A Day in the Life of a Therapist, Musings and Reflections