The cat in the picture is Lily. Twenty years ago, her predecessor, Grace, walked into my life. Actually the fluffy orange tabby with a heart the size of Texas didn’t walk into my life … she arrived as a half-grown wild cat, a bloody broken mess in the road, having just been run over by a truck. I drove her to the vet and did fervent healing work on her all that night and a miracle happened. I named her Grace because it was only by the Grace of God that she came home to me.

Grace was my little orange Muse … always either in my lap or snoozing beside my keyboard on my desk as I worked. She slept with me at night and, because she was pretty much always stuck to me, I nicknamed her Kitty Velcro.

She passed away peacefully in 2013 at the age of 14 … a passing that still brings tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat just thinking about it.

For 6 years I did a lot of traveling and wasn’t grounded enough to get another cat. Truth be told, my heart just wasn’t ready. Then, last year, having moved into what feels like the first “permanent” residence since … well, since a very long time, I asked my landlords if I could get a cat, and they said “Yes.”

Now, I have a “thing” for fluffy cats, but they are rather rare in the islands. It’s too hot for them. But, as I live on the slopes of a volcano at almost 4000 feet, I put the word out and within days was told about a 3 year-old Maine Coon cat that a breeder wanted to find a home for. One of the fluffiest cats of them all!

Queen Lilikoi is a silver grey tabby. Shaved, nursing three kittens and suffering from ringworm when I first met her, she didn’t look like much, and she wasn’t exactly friendly. But then I figured living in one room with three other breeding females her whole life she just hadn’t gotten the kind of attention that would develop that. Once she was an only cat, I was sure the affection meter would rise.

Lilikoi (I call her Lily) was relatively affectionate the first few weeks and hung around me at my desk. But she had never stepped foot on the earth, and, since I couldn’t imagine keeping a 15 pound cat indoors for the rest of her life, I carefully introduced her to Nature. She was wild with excitement being set “free,” (I have a 2-acre yard with a 6’ fence).

It was very edifying until I started having a harder and harder time getting her to come inside.

Now, I’ve had any number of cats and dogs in my life, and they’ve all been loving and affectionate. But not Lily. She mostly ignores me, still flinches from my touch (I swear she was never picked up except to be given a shot or some sort of medicine!) and mostly stays out of my life except to wander in once a day to ask for food … very expensive food!

Much to my dismay, I confess I struggled with the lack of quid pro quo. And this horrified me!!!! I had no idea my love was so conditional!

Lying in bed one night I wrestled with my ego—the “me” that wanted to feel wounded and indignant over not getting what I wanted. And I contrasted it with the warmth and expansiveness of feeling love no matter what.

The place of unconditional love felt wonderful. And yet so much of “me” wanted to remain wounded and victim-y. OMG! I lay there and played the two scenarios out—love her / hate her—back and forth, over and over.

Finally, I made my choice and it played out in my head like this: “I choose love … goddammit!”

I choose love. And the goddammit part is me acknowledging that it’s not always easy to do this. The goddammit is me acknowledging that there’s a part of me that wants to stay in the rut of smallness and misery and miserliness— a part of me that doesn’t want to be great and forgiving and loving at all. A part of me that wants to judge what and who is worthy of love and then parcel out approval and love, tenderness and support in bite-size, quid pro quo packets labeled “limited supplies only!”

Thank you Lily!!!

At a time when the world is crumbling, when the United States is dissolving into a morass of selfishness, entitlement and greed … when there is so much NOT to love, she is teaching me that I have to make a choice … the most important choice of my life: To love or not to love … no matter what.

To love or not to love the world, Trump, neo-nazis, Black Lives, White lives, Brown, Red and Yellow lives … it’s all ultimately the same thing.

It’s not easy. But I choose to love unconditionally. Because to love conditionally is not to love at all.