But lately I've been thinking that there's more to it than the sadness of saying goodbye when a cat is old and you're not.
Cats grow up faster, age faster, live faster than we do. When I first adopted Tiny, he was a gangly street cat, the equivalent of a teenager in human terms, and he didn't trust anyone. I was twenty-three, and I was older than Tiny. I taught him how to trust. I taught him how to deal with his fear of thunderstorms and how to tolerate having his claws clipped. I showed him that the world was interesting, and that it was safe to explore because the world was no longer going to chase him away for being a mangy stray. I taught him that he could ask me for things, and I'd give them to him. Well, mostly. Some things just don't fare well between the inquisitive paws of a cat.
And then Tiny started passing me in age. He started to learn about me, just the way I was learning about him. He learned how to get me out of bed in the morning with gentle pats of the paw. He learned that when I'm overloaded and stuck, he can nudge me out of it. He learned how to lead me, his tail straight up, to his food bowl or his water dish. He even learned how to remind me to do things when I forgot them and he noticed the break in routine. He'll come to me and look at me, then walk away, look back at me, as though saying, "You should be doing something else, not this. Follow me, I'll show you." Or, "You're stuck again, aren't you? Here, human, I'll reset you."
Now Tiny is seven years old, and I am thirty. In cat years, he is older than me, middle-aged, and he is starting to take care of me. When he was young, living with Tiny felt like I was raising a child. Now it feels like living with an older brother. When he's old and grand and wise, I'll still have to look hard in the mirror to find my first wrinkles.
It's not as simple as shorter lifespans, is it? It's like my cat is on a faster timeline than I am. Things just don't take them as long as they take us. A whole lifetime, for a cat, can be fifteen years--and it's just as whole a lifetime as a human's seventy-five.