Our cat G.K. Chesterton, or “chester” for short has been acting a little out of it lately- not eating very much, sleeping a lot, even for a cat and throwing up. Today Dave called me on the way home from the vet and told me that Chester has cancer and will likely die this month. I’m trying not to cry as I write this post (an am being thoroughly unsuccessful) and as much as I’d like to say “it’s just a cat”, I can’t. Chester has purrrred his way into my heart and taught me too many things over the past 5 years to be “just a cat.”
It’s funny that after crying, my first instinct was to write. I really need to be studying right now but I know that I’ll just be too distracted thinking about chester’s last days, when he might die, if Dave will be away when he dies, how I’ll explain it to Reuben, if we should bury him in our backyard, if our already crazy other cat conan o’brian will become even more crazy in chester’s absence….and trying hard to think “it’s just a cat.”
Dave used to do agricultural consulting before he joined staff with InterVarsity. His boss Cal turned a section of his barn into an office, complete with cubicles but with hay bales stacked up in the entryway and stray cats and dogs wandering around just outside of the room, because it was afterall a barn. Though my husband has TERRIBLE allergies, he has a soft spot in his heart for animals. After seeing three grey kittens whom Cal had dubbed “smokey #1, #2 and #3” Dave decided to surprise me by bringing one home. I do not come from a family of cat lovers, nor have I ever wanted to own a cat in my adult life and I was adamant about keeping smokey #2 who later became Chester in our garage. As you can imagine, that didn’t last long and he weaseled his way into our home after our vet said he needed to come inside and recuperate from a cold. Once he came inside he never left.
Chester was a true barncat when he first came to live with us. He would scratch us and bite us whenever we tried to pick him up or pet him and then lick us incessantly when he did allow us to scratch his belly. He was terrified of stairs and rarely ate because he was used to catching mice and birds and other things outdoor kitties eat. Even though I had scratch marks all over my hands and arms, before long I couldn’t resist entertaining him with a lazer pointer, string or other toys. Eventually he mellowed out and learned to be a normal cat when we got conan, who had lived his whole life in the animal shelter and was used to being petted, eating out of a bowl and sleeping 12 hours out of the day. It wasn’t long until he learned that cuddling up next to us on a cold January night wasn’t so bad. He loved to curl up next to my belly when I was pregnant.
I have had a love/hate relationship with my cats. I love how they entertain me, love to pet them and love seeing how Reuben has responded to them throughout his life. I have hated all the hair, Chester stealing bacon and other sorts of food off our plates when we weren’t looking and the fact that friends with cat allergies feel unwelcome in our home because it’s miserable for them with the itchy eyes, runny noses and sneezing. I don’t like having do dose guests with zyrtec when they come over.
Having Chester the barn cat in my life has reminded me that nothing is unloveable and that with enough time, patience and meow mix anything can come around and open up to being loved. It’s reminded me of the simple truth of what it means to be a Christian- those who follow Jesus go to the people and places that are regarded as unloveable, unwelcoming and painful with the belief that through the unstoppable love of Jesus, scars will be healed, hearts changed and communities created for people who have been stray cats.
So, however long Chester remains with us we’re making sure to run a kitty hospice and give him extra petting, put a little tuna in with his dry cat food, let him lounge outside in the sun with us while we play in the backyard and hope that the golf-ball sized tumor in his stomach doesn’t end his life painfully.