Like millions that have discovered the benefits of practicing gratitude first thing every morning, before I get out of bed after waking up, I practice gratitude by mentally going through a list of the blessings in my life.
The list varies depending on the week’s recent events. However, it always has some permanent items like my gratitude for my eyesight, for the use of my legs and for my capacity to peacefully get up to pee every morning.
It wasn’t always like that.
As a teenager living with my parents, I would roll my eyes in sheer mockery whenever I heard my mother every morning ridiculously proclaiming from her bathroom: “It is so good to pee!”
Decades later, I got to grasp the wisdom in her mantra. Perhaps more so than she even fathomed when she engaged in her ritual.
Years ago, an elegant lady by the name of Lesleigh moved to Old San Juan. She was about 15 years older than me. Although I was 29 when I first saw her, I always though I “wanted to grow up” to be like her.
I am not sure how Lesleigh fell in love with Old San Juan. The thing is that once she arrived from the mainland, she never left. Being a passionate cat lover, she founded Save-a-Gato, a non-profit organization dedicated to caring for and sterilizing stray cats that live in the Old City.
She was as free and elegant as any of the cats she looked after. Always slender, clad in white pants, blue oxford shirt and red ballerina shoes, she graciously pranced around the cobbled streets looking after the feline population. The back of her small red pickup truck was always packed with crates, transporting cats to and from the vet at her own expense.
Petite, svelte, with big, blue eyes and layered, short blond hair, Lesleigh was pleasant yet quiet to the point of coming across as surly. She was a woman’s incarnation of a cat, if there ever was one. Although she only had 2 or 3 friends, she seemed content with her life.
I admired her from afar. The only time Lesleigh approached me was to ask for assistance in temporarily capturing Mini Me, the resident cat in front of my house. She had her spayed and returned her a few days later, only to return her to her spot in front of my house with a tiny tip of her ear cut off as identifier.
About 7 years ago, one morning a little before dawn, Lesleigh’s former companion brutally attacked her. He struck a blow to her head that threw her unconscious on the ground. He left thinking he had killed her.
Police found her body in a pool of blood. The house was a bloodbath. It showed signs of a fierce confrontation between them. Just like a cat, albeit her delicate frame, Lesleigh was fierce and courageous. She intensely fought for her life. She was taken to the Medical Center where she remained in the neurological intensive care unit for three weeks.
Without any relatives in PR, some of the residents in our Old San Juan community who were fond of her, as well as grateful for her unselfish contribution to our cat population, joined efforts to take care of her basic needs at the hospital.
I visited Lesleigh almost every day at the hospital. I would take one of her friends who did not drive. Most of the time she was hospitalized, she remained in an induced coma. She could ate through an endotracheal tube. She held on to dear life through a ventilator.
The intracranial pressure monitoring device on her forehead served as an ominous reminder of how your life can be entirely turned upside down in a second, when and how you least see it coming.
Seeing how Lesleigh’s once-beautiful face gradually swelled because of all the liquid from the IV’s, I pondered over how she could have never imagined being unable to get up from her bed to pee. Instead, she depended on a Folley catheter to do so.
One time that I saw a nurse change the urine bag, I got a flashback of my mother’s morning celebration how wonderful it was to pee.
It was on that day that my mom’s words struck a chord.
Lesleigh never made it out of the ICU. Dozens of Old San Juan residents gathered to bid farewell to her, in a beautiful candle-lit ceremony, surrounded by many of the cats she saved, on the grounds that many of them call home.
I hope Lesleigh’s story inspires you to include have another item in your morning gratitude ritual list.
Most important of all is that when you get the urge to pee in the most inopportune of moments, instead of getting upset because of the situation, recognize how blessed you are that your body is kind enough to give you a timely notice of its needs and you will hopefully get an opportunity to safely make it to a bathroom.
Because there are a lot of people that cannot.
To this day, Save-A-Gato continues Lesleigh’s labor of love in Old San Juan.