Kitten teaches professor

Our cat died today.

Her name was Kitten because we never resolved naming rights, the one who found her or the one who fed her. My eyes are burning and my chest is sore from expressing and withholding my unexpected response, quite surprisingly since the men in my life call me the cat-hater.

In my defense, it is not that I hate cats or pets in general; it is just that I like children better. If you can feed a hungry Congolese child for 19 cents a meal, how can you buy Fancy Feast at $1.70?

I see no logic in treating animals like humans, which is why it didn’t occur to me to include animal compatibility in my pre-marital counseling. I should have. That gene was passed directly, twice, from my husband to our sons. At our house, I banish animals to the kitchen and laundry room. Yet whenever someone was sick, Kitten would sneak out, find the suffering person, and curl up at the end of the bed purring, “I’m sorry for your pain and don’t want you to be alone.” In addition, she routinely and quietly ignored the slapping, pouncing and general provoking of her housemate, Addis Abba, our terror cat, by simply removing herself to another corner.

When my husband and I took Kitten to the vet this morning we anticipated that she suffered from kidney failure. I guilted myself into joining him, volunteering at the last moment because it seemed appropriate to at least offer to help get the carrier in and out of the car. The vet was cautious and hopeful, suggesting that the problem might be infected gums, which an antibiotic would cure.

Blood tests showed otherwise and we knew she wasn’t going home. My husband was so nauseated with grief he went to the car. In her final hour, Kitten was left with me, the least tenderhearted member of the family, to stroke her head as she passed over. So there I was. Crying. Crying for a cat.

When the ordeal was over, we drove to Hobby Lobby to distract ourselves by buying upholstery fabric and then comforted ourselves with Cracker Barrel apple dumplings.

As I sniffled, my flitting memories and thoughts landed. I want to be more like Kitten. I want to be constant in nature, open, responsive, sensitive…consistent. I also want to love unconditionally. Allowing Jesus’ nature to work in and through me is the only way I can do this.

I usually anticipate that I will learn by reading the most recent research on the correlation of silent, sustained reading and academic vocabulary development in English language learners, or by studying the words of Henri Nouwen on living with hope through the sanctification process. But today, the message came through a cat.

I saved the bell from Kitten’s collar. I need to figure out how to use it in a commemorative Christmas tree ornament. I still think children trump pets. But, as Muriel Rutkeyser wrote, “The universe is made of stories not atoms,” and Kitten is one of my stories.