When I was about 10 my sister and I adopted a street cat and cared for him. Since he wasn’t allowed in our house (My mother was not a big fan of pets.) we would let him stay in a shed we had in our yard when the Northeast weather turned unfriendly. I think it was during the fourth year of our relationship with this cat that we had a particularly cold stretch of weather and Tabby went missing for a week or so. Ultimately my father found him in that shed. He had succumbed to the cold. It was the first time I had lost ‘someone’ that I was in relationship with. It was what you would expect – very sad. I cried. I remember digging a hole in our backyard in January, ground frozen where I buried him. Since then I have had a couple of pets pass – always a sad thing. Just this past week, suffering from a brain tumor which turned ugly the last two days, our cat of 10 years had to be put down. It was the first time that I went through that experience personally. Saying goodbye to Sam was profoundly difficult. Those of you pet people understand. We knew we had no choice, but that did not make it easy. I cried like I was 14 again. It got me to thinking about a few things.
I regret having giving him the occasional swat in the rear when he would do something that I did not like. It prompted me to wonder why my wife would never do that, but that I could get to a place where I thought that a swat was necessary. Would Jesus do that? Regret is a terrible thing, and not easily overcome. Perhaps the greatest regret is not being able to say something to someone that needed to be said, and then suddenly it becomes too late. Thankfully, while holding Sammy as he began to fall asleep I said I was sorry and asked for forgiveness. I still have regret, but less so. I pray that I never am regretful when it comes to my relationships.
I was reminded again that no one is promised tomorrow. In an instant we are gone. I know that our separation will be only temporary, but still, it is a separation. I pray that I never take tomorrow for granted, or for that matter, any of my relationships. That would only lead to more regret – and we covered that already.
I had confirmed what I had first learned that day I buried my first cat, that in times of loss, your perspective moves to the place it should be: away from things and to relationships. You quickly learn that stuff loses its luster. It says a lot about us as a culture when it requires grievous loss to return our focus to that for which we were created.
And that is what this week crystallized for me – we are relationship creatures. For what other purpose are we here? From our conception in the mind of God to this very second we exist simply for the benefit of each other. To think that all of this energy, all of this activity, all of life itself, as complex and intermingled as it is, exists to simply come to be, procreate and then pass away just does not sit right with me. It is the structural flaw in the argument for atheism and why regardless of their personal religious beliefs, the large majority of people will always be those that understand we are created beings and not simply a series of chemical coincidence. Rather, it is the interaction of our relations with God and all of His other creations, every single one of them, which define our being, meaning and purpose.
Every one of God’s creations as it relates to every other (no matter how apparently insignificant we may consider it to be) has its purpose in that it completes the whole. This is our God’s message to us. This is why we hurt so when we lose someone close to us. There becomes a hole in your universe. And some holes are bigger than others. I’ve lost other loved ones – friends and family – each with its own devastation and each with its own understanding. When we lost our brother four years ago, I searched for the good in God’s plan for his illness and premature death. That was, and remains, really hard. But I was able to find some perspective in the loss, and committed myself to trust in God’s plan.
And finally, I first thought it strange that the death of a cat, at this ‘mature’ age in my life, would stir such a deep need to revisit the most important aspects of my being. But I also remembered God knows what He is doing…and this time He did it with Sam. Rest in peace, boy.