Just a Cat...


There was me posting two Psalms for dark days last week little knowing that this week I would have need of them myself... because a deep dark cloud has descended on Virtual Methodist Manor. 
Our cat, Claudia, has disappeared...
On afternoon Sunday we were telling visiting friends how big a part of the family she was... and Sunday night was the last time we saw her. She headed out on her routine summer nocturnal prowl and hasn't been seen since... by anyone... the neighbourhood has been leafleted but no-one has seen her.
She has gone missing for 24 hours before, but it's now approaching 72 hours and there is no sign of her...
Those who are long time readers of this blog will remember that 4 summers ago we lost another cat, Mitten... To paraphrase Oscar Fingal O'Flaherty Wills Wilde, to lose one cat may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But Mitten's loss was due to a combination of old age, ill health and the thoughtlessness of a new neighbour while we were on holiday... 
This time Claudia's disappearance is an, as of yet, unsolved mystery...
And we are all heartbroken...
It has left me unable to think straight for long periods of time over the past 24 hours, and joy seems to have been sucked out of the house as if by an enormous vacuum pump...
Yet you may be thinking she is "just a cat..."
Give you a tip... don't say that within range of a right hook...

But as I have thought on my response to this loss whilst engaging in diversionary activities (never have hanging out washing, or sorting socks, receipts and pastoral lists become such appealing tasks) it has prompted these mini reflections -

The Power of Pet Therapy - and Uncomplicated Companionship
On the loss of our first cat I vowed I would never have another pet, such was the emotional cost. But I was in a vulnerable place at that time, and some months later was when the wheels fully came off the wagon. An American friend was staying with us on and off at this time and she bullied (not too strong a word) Sally and I into going to Assisi Animal Sanctuary to get another cat. And so Claudia entered our lives. She was a rescue cat who had been abandoned in a bag in Ballycastle and was a bundle of nerves when we got her... But she and I soothed each others frayed nerves over the coming months. Later, as my eldest son went through a tough time physically, she was his constant companion... developing an unhealthy relationship with the rubber stopper on the end of his crutch at one point...
Both Owain and I are now in better places physically and mentally... but now it seems our companion Claudia is no longer with us. She helped pull both of us out of dark places, but now her absence has left us in a dark place again... However, I believe we are both in better places to cope because of her brief sojourn with us. I often say at funerals that loss is the price we pray for love... That is true even of the cupboard love that pets bestow on us...
But if that is the emotional impact that a cat can make on us... for good or ill... How much greater should be the impact of unconditional love offered by other fellow humans?
How much of a difference can you or I make by simply being companions to people walking through difficult days? Not offering answers or explanations or solutions. Just offering of ourselves... 

The Significance of Loss...
I have no doubt that the loss of Claudia has been exacerbated by the loss of my Aunt Winifred last week. I didn't see her half as much as I should have, but her loss brought back to me again the loss of my Dad, her brother, and my Mum before that again... Reminding me that I am an aging orphan...
Yet saying that, I did not feel my aunt's loss as viscerally as the loss of our wee cat...
One of the things I often hear in my chaplaincy rounds in hospital is "When I see what other people have to cope with it puts my troubles into perspective" (or words like that.) I am usually quick to remind people that while that is true, we all have our own burdens to bear and battles to fight, and it isn't always matter of comparing our lot with others... 
Yet here I am mourning the loss of a cat, and I think not only of the loss of my cousins...
But of the loss of those mothers in Israel and Palestine (3 Jewish and now, sadly, one Palestinian as well it seems...)
Or the loss of those parents of girls taken by Boko Haram and now almost forgotten given that the news cycle has moved on...
Or the loss of the McCanns, uncertain about the fate of their daughter Madeline 7 years on...
Or the loss of those who watched their sons go off to the war to end all wars 100 years ago... and the wars that have happened in the intervening years...
Or the loss of those whose loved ones "disappeared" in the Troubles here... and indeed those others where loved-ones' deaths have never been properly prosecuted, or (some suspect) investigated...
It is not just the loss, but the unknowing... Not knowing exactly what happened to the one you loved...
I hope that my little loss makes me just a little more compassionate to those whose hearts seem to have been torn out and left with an aching void that can never be fully filled...
Long ago a wise teacher told me that time alone doesn't really heal loss (or indeed any other hurt)... that the best we can hope through God's grace and the help of others is a well-formed scar... 
That hope is less achievable when there is a lack of information... the edges of the wound simply won't meet...

and finally...

The Parable of the Lost Cat...
You know the other variants... the Sheep, the Coin, the Sons (remember - there were two)... In each of the other stories parties were thrown when the lost was found... Except in the last of the three, where there is a cliff-hanger... Yes the Father threw a party for the return of the younger son, but would the elder son come in, given that the Father had thrown away all dignity in going out to him, in the same way as he had thrown it away in running out to embrace the younger one...
Well, at the moment I'm still in cliff-hanger mode... Like the Father on the roof-top looking out for the younger son... or waiting to welcome the older one into the party...
I'm still waiting for a cat's paw batting the window at my right ear as I write this... or turning up at the patio doors as we settle down to watch some late night TV... or mewing at the back door in the morning... I am still waiting...
And so is our heavenly Father...

So don't you dare tell me Claudia is just a cat...

Shalom






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