We got Charm from the pound in 2009. She was a tiny gray and white kitten who had apparently been taken from her mother too soon. She got her name after two previous Marshall cats had come to infinitely ends. One died on the vet’s table while being spayed. The other vanished without a trace in a matter of minutes while in the garage with my wife.
So came the name Charm, as in the third time is the charm. We called her Kitten more often than Charm, and today Kitten is her unofficial name, though at almost 13 years old, she is no kitten.
Nellie came along eight years later, a calico cat rescued from a dangerous situation by my always compassionate youngest son. Kitten wasn’t pleased by Nellie’s arrival. She has since come to accept her.
Kitten can be cantankerous. She she’s very skittish around children. She hoists whenever a strange dog or cat comes around. She is extremely attached to my wife, and nothing gets her as laughed up as Nellie jumping into my wife’s lap. Kitten is terrified of thunder, lightning and even just rain. A thunderstorm will send her to one of numerous hiding places for hours. Nellie pays those things no mind. Nellie came to us as skinny as any cat I have seen, but cats don’t stay skinny long at our house.
Kitten is fastidious, always using her litter box properly. On the other hand, we had to replace all our carpet with hardwood floors because Nellie thought the carpet was a find substitute for a litter box. Kitten uses her scratching post and wouldn’t consider scratching the furniture. Nellie ignores the scratching post and has already destroyed a recliner. She knows she’s not supposed to do such things, but she still occasionally can’t help herself.
Kitten frequents my office, jumping onto my desk and demanding to be petted. Nellie keeps her distance most of the time. She is extremely attached to my son, seeming to know what he did for her. She is attached to my wife, too. I believe that is mainly to torment Kitten.
Kitten and Nellie are as different as two members of the same species could be, but they both enhance our lives.
So why am I writing about my cats? Because there are lessons to be learned from them. It’s OK for them to be different. I wish that all of us could be more accepting and less judgmental, that we could celebrate differences instead of using them to divide us.
Nowhere is that clearer than in the world in which I have spent my professional life. The same is true in other walks of life, but I am a sports writer, not a philosopher. I will stick to my world.
Rivalries give college sports much of their flavor, but rivals don’t have to be enemies. Competition is a healthy part of life, but so is appreciating the effort of your opponent. Few things are more competitive than an SEC football game, basketball game or, really, any sport. Yet those who compete truly do appreciate the other side.
College athletes pay a fearsome price for the opportunity to compete, and they really do believe they are all in it together. Competition and education consume most of their lives for four or five years. Cell phones have connected them like never before. Athletes from coast to coast share their experiences with each other.
Over the years, my respect for the young men and women who compete has steadily grown. My distaste for the insults hurled their way by people twice their ages has grown, too.
Auburn athletes, Alabama athletes, Georgia athletes, big-time athletes and those who compete for the love of the game are different people with different life experiences. But more than they are different, they are alike. Playing a collegiate sport and going to school really is like having two fulltime jobs. It takes uncommon focus and dedication to pull it off.
Regardless of the colors they wear, they deserve respect for their efforts on and off the field and for the sweat and very real blood they shed.