At our house, the cat population recently went from 2 to 3. A friend in Harrisburg posted a picture on Facebook of an orange boy kitty, age 2, whose owner could not keep him. A response from my spouse caught my attention, and I thought, “Hmm. This might be the one.” Our little guy still grieves for the big orange cat he knew his whole life long until last year, and we had tentatively discussed adding another cat or a kitten to the family. This seemed like it might be the right one. Besides, he needed a home quickly, or he was going to the Humane Society, and no matter how much they may care about surrendered animals, there are 400 cats there. The odds are not great for any of them to find the right loving home.
The next day, we went to get him, and since then, we’ve been going through that process you do when you take in an animal whose habits are already formed and try to integrate him with other pets who think they are the boss of the territory. In our case that means my Old Lady Cat, who is 17+ and goes by the nickname “Six Pounds of Fury.” It hasn’t been long since she went through her own resettlement program, moving to Mechanicsburg from the only home I had with her in Maine. She came to me as a 2-year-old rescue herself, long ago in 1998.
The trouble with a rescue cat is you can’t know what really happened to them before they came into your home. They can’t tell you. You can only try to read their actions and their moods and hope they will settle down eventually.
Bryce Harper, as our little guy named the new orange cat (and be assured I, at least, call him by both names), arrived and hid for a few days after the Old Lady Cat gave him a piece of her mind and possibly her claws. When he surfaced again, he only came out at night. Even then, we could see he had pulled the ceiling insulation down in the cellar, looking for either escape or safety. We’re not sure if he got upside down because he stayed awake for a long time out of fear, or if his nocturnal habits are the reason he ended up in rescue in the first place. We will never know, but just like his elderly cat housemate, he brings with him the experiences and the traumas (if any) he suffered in his past life. We are committed to live with him and with those behaviors even when they are not convenient for us. So in those first weeks, we sat on the floor and scratched on the cushion he seemed to like, reassuring him it was safe to approach us. We closed the door to the room where the Old Lady Cat sleeps so he could roam free in the night. We waited patiently for him to feel at home.
People can be like rescue cats, too. When we have suffered, we may respond out of that pain and trauma, even to people who aren’t really hurting us. When people come to a new church after a bad experience elsewhere, they may carry the wounds and scars with them. When we hear a story of hurt or rejection, we need to be ready to be more than nice to that person, more than the usual amount of hospitable. We need to stretch ourselves farther and show by our actions that we are committed to being the people of God and showing welcome to all who seek a safe and welcoming community of faith.
kzj and I often say we want to be treated as ordinary, in church and in the world, but that may be the privileged thinking of two people who came out later in life. We haven’t lived with the external prejudices our LGBT sisters and brothers knew if they came out younger and longer ago. A lay leader said to me recently that churches need to do more than treat LGBT people like the rest of the congregation; churches need to be ready to listen compassionately to stories of harm done.
I’ve known my own hurts; I’m a little like a rescue cat myself, constantly calculating the margin between danger and sanctuary, even though the truth is now I’m loved and safe.
God, of course, already knows what the troubles are, where the injuries have occurred and what might help remedy the situation. God knows that people need time to heal and safe places to recuperate. Whether we’re licking our wounds in the rafters or trying to figure out how someone else got hurt, that is good news for all of us. However we may have been harmed, and no matter how inclined we are to hide from the world, God is with us.
“O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)
Our patience here is paying off. Last night I woke to find the Old Lady Cat on one side of my feet and Bryce Harper on the other. May God show us all how to be present to one another, whatever the hurt may be, whatever the rescue required.