Angela Townsend: Travis is Not My Cousin

I picture Travis from Missouri as my favorite cousin.

He is not. But the brain has its own casting department.

Travis may be thirty or ninety. He may enjoy eschatology or fantasy football. Travis may take annual portraits of his nine children in matching striped overalls. He may make solitary daily pilgrimages to the 7-Eleven for Bahama Mama hot dog combos. He may argue with strangers on the internet as to whether hot dogs are sandwiches.

He may be as tortured as the prophet Jeremiah or as blithe as my cousin.

Travis donates three hundred dollars to my cat rescue every April. Somewhere in St. Louis, he sits at his computer, points at our website, and pecks out his credit card digits.

He is always within days of April tenth. I don’t know if he puts this on his calendar, or if some secret Travis soulwork pulls his tides like the Pink Moon. As sure as Missouri’s dogwoods, Travis turns up for the cats.

Three hundred dollars across a thousand miles mean someone loves New Jersey cats a great deal. I email Travis every year, but my exclamation points and cat photos and commendation of his long-distance love never get a response.

The only answer is the next April, when Travis arcs back to the cats.

Many of my donors are a mystery, of course. Cat people are splendid introverts. From the Wiccans to the well-heeled, the Southern Baptists to the Jersey cynics, they excel at Jesus’ command to give in secret. With rare exceptions (typically folks donating holey towels with apocalyptic stains), they are not doing this for attention.

Still, a great many glory in affection unbidden.

Although I am an accidental fundraiser, neither trained in this work nor particularly good at its traditional tasks, I am incorrigibly affectionate. At this particular cat sanctuary, with these particular donors, that has been the backbone of a career.

I can’t help myself. Anyone who weeps for the weak is my brother or sister. They give their crinkled ten-dollar bills and their meticulous donor-advised funds. They love crumpled cats with broken spines and habanero spirits and crimped whiskers they will never even see in person.

So I write to them. I love at them. I tell them this world needs more people with hearts like theirs, that we are rich beyond telling to have them in their family, and that even though they are in Missouri or Arizona or Bahrain, they are right here beside us, their tears and their goodness running down our cats’ chins like gravy.

They write back, their emails stuffed like olives, fat as figs. I walk their holy lands astonished, a servant to their secrets and stories. Some have suffered so much, their only health is saving someone smaller. Some have been loved so well, their entire existence is overflow. All have glimpsed God between tabby stripes. Some say as much.

Many become my friends. We will never meet in person. We have met out where a person becomes a full person. Our lives are entwined now, and our emails take up the better part of my life, and my life is better for every one of them.

This is true even of Travis, even if all I know is that he gives us three hundred dollars in April, and lives near a great steel half-moon at the gateway to the West, and probably looks nothing like my cousin.

We are family.

Read More