Have you ever Googled: “People Who Said They Didn’t Want a Damn Cat”? If so, you’ll find a variety of videos, blogs, and memes about folks who never wanted a cat but fell in love with them once they did.
Well, I’m one of those ‘never wanted a cat’ folks. Yep, that would be me. Not because I hated cats, or because I preferred dogs, but because cats are unpredictable – you never know when they might scratch or hiss. Cats scare me.
My discomfort with cats did not rank with my fear of dogs, certainly. Domestic cats can’t maul you to death. And I’d never seen a dog attack a friend and stand by helpless – like I had with a dog in my tween years. I’d loved dogs up to that point.
You’d think – with 13 years as a Franciscan, I’d love all animals. Isn’t St. Francis the patron saint…. Yeah, yeah. I fed and bathed three dogs for the first year in the convent – when assigned ‘dog duty’. And in Hong Kong, I raised a pup from infancy – bottle feeding at 2:00 am because I ‘was the youngest’ and didn’t need as much sleep. But as soon as that puppy could jump, it frightened me. [And, give me credit for the many times I carried a cockroach outside when I found it on my pillow.]
When I realized that I was raising a daughter who ADORED animals, particularly dogs, I knew I couldn’t pass my fear along to her or her two older brothers. I taught them how to ask from a distance if the dog was safe, how to approach slowly with an outstretched hand to allow the dog to sniff, and to pet only when the owner – and the dog – welcomed it. Quickly my daughter snuggled, hugged, and befriended dogs everywhere.
We tried adopting a dog for our daughter when she was five. Not a good match, we needed to return it a few days later. We traded the dog in and adopted two frightened, frenetic full-grown cats – which led to untold frustration and triggered my son’s allergies. We had to return the cats after a few weeks.
My visceral fear of dogs and cats subsided and although I still don’t feel comfortable being alone with a dog, I enjoy their cute smiles, floppy ears and wagging tails as I pass them on the bike path. I can enter friends’ homes without panic. Cats – still unpredictable.
But this past summer we created an upstairs apartment for our son to ‘rent’ and he promptly adopted a kitten.
While I still don’t think I’d choose to own a cat, as I mentioned in my book review on Archetypes, I am a caregiver by nature – so when my son travels for work or stays out late with friends, I find myself feeding and visiting my little kitten friend. And I certainly enjoy her cozy company on days I spend long hours alone.
She is adorable, feisty, and still unpredictable – and visits me often.
Just yesterday as I sat reading and writing, she curled up in my lap and purred against my chest – for a few hours.
I couldn’t help but think back to my 30-day silent retreat in the mid-nineties:
I sat on the lawn to meditate when a cat – A CAT – climbed in my lap, curled up, and began purring. I hadn’t seen this cat before – and I never saw it again. But, right then, there it sat – in my lap. I wanted desperately to push the cat away, to be left alone with God.
But almost instantly, I realized the cat was a symbol – a metaphor for my relationship to God. Each time I fidgeted, the cat did too – only settling when the disruption subsided. Each time the Divine moves in my life I fidget, claw and scratch, trying to stay nestled in my comfort zone until I finally acquiesce in the protective lap of the Divine – trusting that through acceptance of what is, I can find peace, be content, and share joy.
Have your encounters with cats, dogs, or cockroaches ever led you to ponder God, the Divine, the universe in a way that led to spiritual growth?