It was two years ago for Christmas when two of my girls went together and offered to go with me to get a new cat. I had not had one around for a while. While, I really love cats and wanted one, I just didn’t have the space to manage the litter box, the new thing to welcome in, etc. So, although I loved the idea of the gift, I just couldn’t do it then.
But while I was gone, Karen so changed the feel of our home, made it more spacious, more beautiful, and more possible to add a pet. Plus our other cat, who had been totally an outside pet, had died the day after my departure. And our neighbor had told me if we got another cat, she would help care for it! Her grandkids loved that previous cat, Kizzy, probably more than we did. That cat had been more feral than domesticated.
So, this week, I did this crazy thing. I had found an ad on Craig’s list of someone offering a free cat, contacted the folk offering her, and then went to meet her and ended up bringing her home. I had discovered her on Friday and picked her up on Monday. Kind of a “day after Christmas” present for myself, I’d say. It was an hour’s drive to reach the destination. I had a crate with me, but they said, “Oh she does great in the car” so I just brought “Cat” (that had been her name for 10 years already!) to the car, and put her in on the backseat, with some food and drove off.
Our dog, Zack, was wholly convinced I had lost it, bringing that “thing” into the car. He was sitting on the front seat, also without a kennel. Zack is a fearful animal, so his eyes just got as big as saucers and he kind of hunched up like he was having a seizure and froze in that position for a while. I thought Zack would go into full cardiac arrest as Cat decided to daintily step across the edge of his sleeping bed on the front seat down onto the floor in front of him. I finally reached over and encouraged him to just curl up and rest and he did so. Cat realized another option, seeing my lap available while driving, so, gently crawled into my lap, curled up, and slept the entire way home.
It was during the drive out to get Cat, that weakness began to enter my body. A bit of a cough, a scratchy throat, and then a slight headache. We arrived home, and my body had begun to ache. I thought I must have eaten the wrong thing. I plopped her onto the back of our couch, brushed her, and she felt like it was the best home for her, so settled down for a nap, and I did the same on the couch below her.
She and I left an hour later to go to Petsmart together. Always a new errand with a new pet. But she loved traveling, and I was pushing myself.
I carried her next door to introduce her to our neighbors, and the grandma saw her and took her into her arms and began to cry tears of joy that there was a new cat to love in the family! Since that time her grandkids have been over twice to meet Sadie, until she is able to go outside more and can visit them.
By the time that trip was over, my head hurt in earnest, I ached everywhere, and felt something like I had been run over by a semi. I lay down on the couch again, and Cat (now named Sadie, or Princess Sadie) knew I was there for her, but actually, she was there for me.
That night I went to bed at 8 pm. The headache had come on with a vengeance, loud noises hurt. My gut was sore. My cough worsened. I slept little that night. I couldn’t sleep with the headache, and Advil hadn’t touched it. And as it took hold, the plans for the rest of the week vanished. We had planned nights out, fun times, away-from-work times, but instead, I spent three days and nights virtually in bed. And Sadie was glad for this. It meant plenty of holding times.
On Wednesday morning Karen’s back began to spasm and so she was hardly able to walk, in pain. So here I was with hot compresses on my head and she was lying down with ice packs on her back. She took me to the doctor on Wednesday morning and I took her to the chiropractor Thursday afternoon.
It is interesting the amount of attention pain demands. There was nothing in me that could pray, find God nor hear God. The pain blurred all my senses. Prayer basically was breathing, for that was all I could manage. I remembered on the Camino when my prayer life became breath and movement for days, which is the essence of the physical basics of prayer. On the Camino I had no words sometimes. Some days, I was exhausted. I was stretched. I was seeking to make it to the next albergue on feet that were tired and hurting, with shoulders strained from the pack, with a heart longing for rest. It was like the very demands of walking and breathing were the spiritual life as well, as if all my life were knit into a whole. There was no separation between what was physical and what was spiritual. It was one and the same. I think that is more true than I make it when life takes hold of me. And this week, it was true again. There was no dissecting of a “quiet time” apart from “other times.” All of it was quiet, was God, was prayer, was the breath of life.
But in that pain, I felt God distant, not near. I felt like prayer was unanswered. I sought healing in my breaths, I sought relief, but none came. But all along the way, as I sought to rest, sought elusive sleep, fought with a headache that claimed my whole being, this Sadie would curl up on my lap, she would crawl onto my side as I lay on now “her” couch, she would place her paw on my chest. Present. Quiet. Loving. It was such a blessing. A little sense of a greater Presence in her smallness.
Because of the nature of the flu there was no watching a movie or reading a book for the first three days. I couldn’t focus on anything. It was this forced down time of another variety. It wasn’t until 1:30 am Thursday morning that my headache broke its stronghold, and I could rest. That previous morning Karen’s back spasms stopped her. There was no working especially as the symptoms of the flu I had shared got her. Instead, our home was this quiet refuge. So instead of our planned date nights, I had healed enough to read aloud from a novel, while she listened lying down. It was then I noticed. The quiet. The peace. The enforced rest had begun to soak into my cells.
Two parishioners and I made a Plan B via text, phone and email in case I didn’t heal for Sunday. I laid low. Did all I knew to heal, and now could add words to my prayers. But somewhere during the week, I realized how much pain got my attention. It yelled. It stomped. It took so much energy. It reduced me to my simplest. I couldn’t “do” and as a result, I rested. Frequently and eventually well. In that rest I was reminded of the line from the Orthodox prayers which says, “but you have shown your usual love for me.” That idea of “usual love” always stood out to me. God really does show us love, all the time. Yet sometimes we don’t expect that, expecting judgment not mercy, so that love stands in contrast to our expectations.
Sometimes in the middle of trying times and pain and weakness and headaches and limitations, we can forget, that even then, we are recipients of love, a deep, undercurrent of love that is deeper than the setback, stronger than pain, more enduring than disappointments. This week has been an opportunity in the midst of illness to receive it anew, even as it came expressed more than once, in the unlikely paw placed upon my chest.