Cats, Church Life, Orientation, The Inner Landscape

The Rescue Cat

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.

The 5 Tool Cat
The 5 Tool Cat

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.

Cats, Grief

PussPuss

Our Puss Puss In a stack of cages at the Animal Refuge League, on the second row from the bottom, which was just about eye level for a five-and-a-half-year-old boy, there was a little cat. She had white legs and a white face and undercarriage, but the top of her head and her back and her tail were brown tiger-colored. Little Snowman, on a hunt for the right cat, picked her out after serious deliberations. We brought her home the next day, along with an older grey cat chosen by Young #1 Son. 

And so we began our lives at the beginning of my single motherhood, a young mom, with three kids and two cats, the grey man cat Nicky and frail little PussPuss, who required several weeks of antibiotics and hand-feeding, deep care from Snowman and his mama. Very Little Light Princess, the same age as the little kitty, somehow got the idea that you made a cat meow by pulling on her tail. As soon as Puss felt better, VLLP learned otherwise.

We've been together for a long time. PussPuss was the pilot cat, the one following us up and down the block when we went for a walk, waiting for us at the corner if we went to the 7-11 or walked the children to elementary school, willing to sit on a neighbor's front steps while we sold Girl Scout cookies or wrapping paper or stopped in for a short visit. 

She loved to be outside, and for many years had a regular route around the neighborhood, one that made her well-known. She left enough collars under neighbors' shrubs that we gave up trying to make her wear one. It was only in the past few winters that she decided snow was too much for her and spent the winter almost entirely inside.

She found the dogs worrisome as a duo, but came to love Sam after Molly's death. 

Puss dirt bath She maintained a meticulous appearance, all that white fur shining, and a big part of that was rolling in the dirt, something we could never understand.

After we got her strong and healthy back in 1996, she was never sick a day in her life, though she clearly grieved for other animals who passed through our household. When she seemed low after Sam's death, I did not immediately suspect physical illness, but a couple of weeks ago at her check-up, the vet found a mass. A couple of days ago, she really sank, and yesterday we had to bid her farewell. 

15-and-a-half is young for a person and oldish for a cat, especially a cat who started life as a sickly stray. It's a hard loss for us because it's one more on top of others, and because Puss had a sort of independent character that gave way to being more affectionate in the last couple of years. She sat in laps and slept with LP. And on her last visit to the vet, even though we didn't realize it would be the last, she came out of the carrier and nuzzled me lovingly. 

My only consolation, after having our last old cat wander off never to be found, is in knowing we gave her a quiet end.

Farewell, PussPuss, faithful pilot cat. We love you.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Cats, Grief

Time to Grieve

Cats 001 A friend shared this quote from Alban's magazine, Congregations:

"We must support those who are grieving and give them sufficient time to grieve. To shortchange grief is to rush people to a false sense of acceptance which diminishes their ability to accept the reality and finality of the loss and blocks their capacity to attach anew."

We have two cats, Puss Puss and Baby, both 15 years old, just like LP. (Yes, I am living with three 15-year-old girls now.)
 
Baby, once a mighty mouse huntress, is The Cat Who Lives Upstairs, and who resents anyone else's demands on my time and space. She had a lot to put up with when Sam started sleeping with us, even though I have a ridiculously large bed for one person. Sam took up as much space as he could, and I did not mind a bit. Every night I would lie there with my hand placed gently on the closest part of him, aware of his breathing and his restlessness and for some time each night, his peaceful rest. Baby would circle my head, warily, eventually finding a place to land, away from Sam. But on the last few nights of his life, she got as close to him as she could. Now she is downstairs far more than she has been in years, and I'm not sure she's pleased about it.

Cats 003 Puss Puss is our Cat Who Patrols the Neighborhood. She also has exhibited grief for other pets in our family who died. I remember after Pepper, the best big kitten ever, was hit by a car in 1998, Puss Puss went into a decline. When Molly left us, Puss Puss seemed to be physically sick, but the vet could find nothing wrong. And this week she is grieving again, seems depressed, and shows little interest in going outside. She's spending the day curled up in a corner of the couch, though this evening she's made a move to use my Kindle as a pillow.

We're all like this: unsettled, unhappy, uncertain. I turn down the street and sigh for Sam. At 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. I want to fix his dinner. Even in my office, new though it is, I'm wistful thinking of the days he was lying on the floor next to me. 

I'm taking my time with it.

Cats

Baby, the Old Lady Cat

We have two old lady cats at our house, both about 14 years old. One, Puss Puss, got the following review from the vet at her visit last spring: "Doesn't look a day over 3!"

But Baby, who is actually a little younger, is starting to show signs of her age. A cat who used to go in and out all the time, she rarely ventures out the door now, and when she did the other day, she couldn't seem to figure out how to get back in again, as if the timing of coming to the door had gotten beyond her.

I remember watching Nicky, our Old Man Cat, begin to fade. Even when the vet said nothing was the matter with him, I could see him thinning out, not so much literally as energetically.

Now Baby is the cat who over the years has created a number of headaches with her indoor behaviors. We've purchased feline Valium and Feliway (the pheromone stuff you plug into the wall) and moved a litter box into the master bedroom, which is probably what solved some of the problems in the end.

She's a little old lady cat, eight pounds of possessive purrs. She sleeps as close as she can get to me, drinks my water, walks around my head when I'm sitting on the sofa and is sure she can help with my knitting.

As she sat in my lap yesterday, I noticed some unaccustomed matting of her fur. I wondered if she had injured herself and tried to gently comb the area.

Baby felt it only appropriate to put her teeth on me in response.

Twice.

I never found an injury and in fact noted there were quite a few areas of concern; I realized she must not be grooming herself as well as she used to do. Really, I can't remember seeing her do much grooming recently.

This afternoon I consulted Google and concluded that this must be part of the aging process. Matted fur feels uncomfortable, so we're going to have to help her with her grooming. She's not going to love that, I fear.

Readers, if you have experience grooming older cats or can recommend a grooming tool, I would appreciate your wisdom.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Cats, Chez Songbird

This Dog Belongs to Puss Puss

Tonight I took Sam out for a walk, but he really didn't want to leave our street. We ambled rather aimlessly to the dead end, then came back on the opposite side.

Soon I noticed Puss Puss keeping an eye on us from a neighbor's yard. She looked rather like she wanted to join us, but first a car left our street and then another arrived, and you don't get to be a 14-year-old Lady Cat Who Goes Outside without understanding to keep out of the traffic.

But it subsided, and she came across the curb and began to pad toward us.

Sam, busy sniffing messages on the neighbor cat's shrubs, did not notice her. When she seemed hesitant to come all the way, I turned him toward home, where Puss Puss met us in the driveway. She walked right over to Sam, which is unusual, and they sniffed each other, nearly touching noses, which is highly unusual. Then she walked under him–he is a big fellow, after all–and to my amazement, she rubbed her head against his front leg.

Yes, I believe she claimed him as her very own.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Cats, Interim Ministry, Knit Without Ceasing

In Which Our Heroine Blocks a Sweater

I've had the pieces of LP's "Christmas" sweater carefully tucked away in a see-through zipper bag acquired on a trip to the Gulf Coast of those holidays ago. I began the project early last summer, knowing that given my hands I might not be able to get it done if I waited until fall. She didn't like her most recent Christmas sweater; it's in my bottom drawer, and I still feel tempted to weep when I see it there, knowing how much effort went into it. But I understand the problem she had with it. And I think perhaps I should have blocked it.

I had never made a sweater for a young lady before. Oh, years ago, I made a sweater for myself, but I did not have the same standards for fit that certain middle school girls do, and I don't think I had ever heard of blocking, that means for making your knitting look the way it really ought to look. To block a sweater, you soak the pieces in a warm water bath, gently squeeze out the water, and then dry the pieces flat before assembling. For some reason this sounded daunting to me. What if I ruined the hand-washable wool! (By hand-squeezing it. Yes. I know it sounds silly.)

A great deal of effort goes into a sweater. This sweater, a tunic, has five pieces: a front, a back, two sleeves and an i-cord belt sort of thing. Blocking allows the knitter to be sure the pieces really match up in length and breadth, to encourage the yarn in a certain direction. The tunic has darts, and I am using blocking to encourage those little tucks in the pattern to NOT look like little holes!

Which is to say, I'm finally blocking it. The dining room table cleared off, the weather dry and cool, enough towels clean that half a dozen can be spared, the pieces lie flat and drying gently. Influenced by Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World to practice reverence as a kind of focused attention, I blocked both a scarf and the sweater at lunchtime yesterday. (So far, so good, though the darts continue to be a problem and that piece may be going back into the water.)

In the past, I've blocked socks on the dining room table, and I've walked off and left them there, because my cats just didn't go into that room, a favorite of the dogs. So it took me by surprise when Baby followed me in on an inspection tour and, before I realized what she meant to do, took a walk across the pieces.

When did the dining room become a cat-friendly zone?

Well, Sam does not chase cats (much), and the cats have grown bolder and bolder in the months since Molly died.

As I look back over the past year at 1FP, I see us making similar efforts and living through our own changes. We've tried things that felt new and perhaps challenging. We've gone back to the drawing board. And we've learned that without some people in the church family, the dynamics change in unexpected ways, ways that open possibilities for some of us while reminding others of their losses.

LP will, I hope, wear this sweater, and I will move on to other projects. I'm finishing a necktie, and have two pairs of socks on the needles. 1FP will continue into the next phase of a transition when I go, and this is the hard part of Interim Ministry. The reports I get on how their sweater looks will be second hand, at best. But if the process has been reverent, and it has for me, I must let them wear it and trust the fit.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Cats, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Great Outdoors, The Inner Landscape

Making Home

Sam and I participated in the Arthritis Walk yesterday (many thanks to those who donated!), walking the 3 mile course slower than some people but faster than others, but mostly, by ourselves. We stopped several times so that he might be petted and admired by strangers. We both admit that it’s been a while since we walked three miles all at once, so we paced ourselves. And even with that, Sam dragged behind me at the end.

WhiteVioletsWeb Later in the day, we went to 1PF to drop in at the Spring Sale. I picked up some white/purple violets. I love violets. We bought some purple violets at a plant sale at Light Princess’ Montessori School many years ago (8 or 9?), and they inhabit various corners and create interesting borders in our backyard, far from the places they began. I’m going to plant the white/purple ones in front and look forward to seeing where they will travel.

We’ve lived in this house for almost eleven years. I moved in with children ages 12, 7 and almost 3, along with two cats, ages 6 and almost 3, and we soon added another cat to the family. I think I was a little bit of a crazy cat lady at that point in my life. Unemployed, trying to go to seminary and take care of the kids, what made me think I could manage and maintain TWO pets, let alone three? But there was something about having my own house (possible because my parents had died) and my own life, and I had a determination to create something post-divorce.

I had a desire to make a home.

I didn’t think logically about what might define home. I moved through a process as befits an ENFP, reaching out around me and drawing in what felt right, what seemed needful.

At the time, that included cats. Later I drew in a man, and then two dogs. And as I’ve mentioned recently, the change from a house with three cats, two dogs, two teenage boys, a man, a woman and a young girl to the current cast of mother and daughter with one dog and two old lady cats, well, it’s fairly stunning.

Last night I murmured something about the house seeming unnecessarily large. Light Princess turned on me, “What do you mean?” Her reality does not include the possibility of other living arrangements.

This is home.

Last summer we did some rehab to our swing set in anticipation of young visitors, and after they left I noticed that our neighbors with younger children than mine have already taken theirs down in favor of a carpet of green grass. I’ve noted that their children are never in the yard anymore, while LP strains the swings to their ultimate height capacity almost every day after school. Really, a mother must look away when she turns herself practically upside down and pray she doesn’t get tall enough to have her head graze the ground.

We’ve grown up here, all of us, but it seems that is not quite over.

Pure Luck, far away for at least half this year, may be away for even more of it, as both his car and his laptop appear bound for the boneyard, and he pays cash for everything. We’ve been married almost seven years, and I’m starting to look ahead to the day when no children will be at home, and wondering where we will be and how we will live, but for now, this is home. And perhaps the next phase of growing up is learning not to be a baby about this long absence, to be grateful that he has work in this economy, and so do I.

Which brings me to kittens. You see, there were kittens at the Spring Sale. A church member has three kittens, almost 8 weeks old. They look alike, the three of them, black with a few white wisps, blue eyes from their Siamese grandmother, just precious little creatures. When you hold one in your hand, it bends around you, soft and flexible and full of curious energy.

I’ve said for a long time that when the current generation of old lady cats “retires” I would never have another cat. But apparently, I’m once again attracted to new, young, mewling life. And I think it’s because I feel better. I walked three miles yesterday with more energy than the dog. I’m on half the dose of anti-inflammatory drugs I used to take. I’m sleeping well. I’m happy about my work life. I’m enjoying my dog and my daughter. I’m writing poetry. I feel on the brink of exciting things.

And maybe that’s the lesson of the kitten. Changes are coming. New life is on the horizon. When it stops raining, I’ll plant the violets. If the sun comes out again, the lilacs will soon reach full bloom. When we find a break in the schedule, Pure Luck and I will find a way to see each other. At the other end of a long year, we’ll spend the winter together, making home.