I was unemployed. It was a time of anger, fear, self-pity, and housework.
She came to us from the library of the College of St. Catherine, an orphan kitten hidden by my wife's student assistant in her dorm room. Her meowing was beginning to make obvious the fact that some dorm rules were being broken. In a desperate attempt to find her a home, the student brought her to my wife's office in the library.
My wife agreed to keep her "for a few days."
Katie had found herself a permanent home.
When Katie entered my life, I was fifty-seven years old. Without a job. Dependent on my wife and parents. Between religions. And with lots of time on my hands in which to pray and lots of issues to pray about.
Katie entered into my prayer practice just as she entered every other part of our lives. She became for me a spiritual provocateur and guide.
Katie never seeks self-improvement. She never petitions us to help her become a better cat.
It probably never enters her cat-mind that she needs improvement.
When she stares at us or snuggles against us, when she follows us around, she does so either because she enjoys doing so or because she wants something from us. She does not use our presence as an inspiration to become a better cat.
She is not, by religious standards, a righteous cat. Yet, despite her breaking of our rules, we love her.
No, more than that: because she breaks our rules we love her. Her very disobedience is a part of the perfection of her felinity. She is perfectly cat-like and being cat-like includes indifference to our desires. We find her independence delightful (most of the time).
Might not God feel the same way about me? I have been told that the Lord accepts me the way I am. Might there not be more than mere acceptance? What if God enjoys me the way I am? Maybe the Holy One takes a certain wry pleasure in my indifference to the divine will, a certain amusement in my attempts to get away with something....
|Katie entered into my prayer practice just as she entered every other part of our lives. She became for me a spiritual provocateur and guide.|
When I think of how much of my prayer has been devoted to begging God for assistance in self-improvement, I am both appalled and amused.
Katie was killed tonight.
After supper she sat at our apartment door, looking up at us, patiently waiting for her evening walkabout. We let her out, then lowered the cat-ladder (a rolled-up carpet) so she could climb up to our balcony when she decided to come home.
She stayed out later than we expected.
My wife went downstairs to see if, by some chance, she was waiting at the door. She came back stiff-faced. "There's a cat lying in the middle of the street."
I went downstairs. I saw the body. "It's not Katie," I said to myself. "There's too much white."
But it was Katie.
We cried. We loved that cat. I carried her upstairs to our apartment, half-numb, half-hoping it wasn't true, cradling her as if she were still alive. God damn it to hell, god damn it to hell!
Katie had an old towel on which she liked to sit. We wrapped her in it. We laid her on the living room floor and cried. Finally we carried her body to our garage. We found there an old beer carton. It was, in its own way, a friendly and familiar box--one that had been with us through several of our moves. We put Katie in it, wrapped in her towel. It felt cheap and inadequate but we didn't know what else to do....
|But I know, now, that I am able to love--more able than I thought--because I know I loved Katie.|
I know of no reason to believe that cats are not souls. It seemed at that moment that human arrogance was the only explanation for the claim that only human beings are souls. O God, if You are the God of the loving, You are the God of Katie as much as You are my God. If You are the source of all being, You are her source as well as mine. It seems right to have honored her and honored You by bringing her body, in its cardboard beer carton and faded towel, to Your altar, that You might have mercy on us all.....
I have never been very confident of my ability to love. It has often seemed so difficult to feel affection for many of the people for whom I am supposed to feel affection.
But I know, now, that I am able to love--more able than I thought--because I know I loved Katie....
Fifty yards east of St. Joseph's Parish Center there is a ravine, a little drainage stream-bed.
We buried Katie on its banks this afternoon. I borrowed a shovel from the church tool room. My wife held the box containing Katie's body as we drove to the place. She said, "One last trip, Katie."
On this trip of course she was still.
We went to worship this morning. When we returned we found an envelope under our apartment door. Inside was a prayer, a memorial for Katie. It was unsigned. It think it was from someone from St. Joe's. We read it and cried. We prayed it as we buried Katie.
|God, in Your mercy, do You designate a place in heaven's bleachers for pet cats?|
And so it ends, the insistent, funny, affectionate, evocative company of our cat. The love does not end, I think. We care and will continue to care. We remember and will continue to remember and the recollections will both pain and please us.
One last trip.
Are you now one of that "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) who surround and cheer on the faithful? God, in Your mercy, do You designate a place in heaven's bleachers for pet cats? Special memberships in the communion of saints for four-legged lovers?