Today, I had a much more normal night of sleep. The second I woke up is when the normal ended, though, because the first thing I heard was a muffled but booming chorus of people – it sounded like dozens – that seemed to be mere feet away from my window. I got to the window just as it finished, but I caught a little bit of the action :
Don’t know what or who that was; but it seems strangely appropriate in Roma.
The first part of my day was typical Rome – pasta, sunlight, gelato, and peace. After lunch I settled on to a park bench to just stare at a fountain and the pigeons on it. If you watch closely, there is running water nearby almost everywhere in Rome – fountains from the practical to the decorative are on almost each and every block. Well, whatever random and indescribable shape the proximate roads around a series of buildings make – nothing resembles a square in this town.
What I thought about sitting in the park, mostly, was the task at hand for the day. I would be meeting with the people who run the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in the center of Rome. I won’t try to rewrite their history here, you can get that straight from their website, but the Sanctuary was a special place for me ever since my first visit in 2011.
Although their pioneering leadership and legacy amongst animal welfare organizations across Rome is extensive, their core function is to sterilize feral cats that are found anywhere in Rome. The cats are never euthanized – if there is no capacity in the shelter, they are sterilized and released; otherwise, they are kept in the shelter and put up for adoption. If the cat is disabled or otherwise in need of special care, they welcome the animal into the shelter to be treated and cared for, forever free to sun themselves on the ancient ruins where Julius Caesar was slain.
During my first visit three years ago, I think I was more in love with the novelty of it all. I mean, there were so many cats, and they strutted about the offices and cage rooms like they owned the place, each with their own quirky routine or habits. The kitties that decided to live or roam outside would seek higher ground in the forms of crumbled ancient walls or preserved columns, oblivious to the history they perched upon.
The next time back, a year later, the larger beauty of the place struck me. This was a microcosm of what the world could be. What the world should be. Here are a full time staff of volunteers who receive no compensation for running the shelter 365 days a year – from the cleaning of the cages to the handling of press and legal matters. Here are a constant stream of visitors, mostly tourists, who give money out of compassion and a certain sense of desperation to do anything they can to help in that moment. Their support is critical – the Sanctuary receives no public money at all.
All of this, for the cats. For a collection of God’s creatures who through no fault of their own found themselves sick, hungry, or vulnerable. Within the four walls of the offices, spilling in to the sacred areas outside the front door, nothing but loving, living beings taking care of other loving, living beings because they can. Because it is needed.
All of us, at one point or another, needed a hand to help us back up when we were knocked down. Sometimes we got it, sometimes we didn’t. That’s life, I suppose. But in this tiny corner tucked away in the center of Rome, the hand is always there. No conditions, no questions, just love. Love for the sake of love.
At a time in my life when I was jaded about just about everything, it gave me hope. Inspiration. It was proof that at least in one little place, somewhere, beautiful things were happening simply because they could and they should.
I flew back to Paris after that second visit, spending the whole flight determined to think of something, anything, to help the Sanctuary. Merely five weeks later, we learned of my Mom’s cancer. The next month, when the cloud of her passing had finally lifted somewhat, it became clear – the legacy of kindness and love Mom left behind would be most appropriately memorialized there, at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary.
In February of last year, the Sanctuary dedicated the office area of the facility to my mother. A plaque commemorating her life hangs on the door. If you ever make it to Rome, take a minute to visit the Sanctuary. Pet the cats, chat with a volunteer, and maybe leave a few bucks behind. You just might leave with something far more valuable.
To make a donation to the Sanctuary, click here.