July 11, 2011
The six-pound cat limped into the room on her three remaining legs. She threw her head back and made a sound like an old door slowly creaking shut. She was halfway bald, having been shaved twice for surgery in the last week. She still had stitches in her stump.
I looked at her and thought, Perfect.
After all, I was getting a cat because I wanted to take care of something. I needed an outlet for my thwarted instinct to nurture and coddle. That’s why I told the humane society volunteers not to rule out special needs cats. I knew three-legged animals usually did fine, and this cat was even missing a back leg, which would be easier to adapt to than a missing front one. But technically, she did have a special need: to stay indoors due to her lessened ability to evade dogs or cars, and by golly, I was ready to step forward and meet that need. It’s meant to be! I thought, carrying the mewling cardboard box to the parking lot. I don’t even have a backyard! I felt pretty great about myself as we drove home for opening my heart and home to an animal who had had such a hard life and clearly needed me.
Soon, it became apparent our cat wouldn’t need much special care at all. There were some milestones in those early days as she built up the muscles she needed to get around. First time on the bed! First time on the couch! She made it to the kitchen! She jumped into the bathtub! But soon she was running laps around the apartment, scaling a six-foot cat tree with ease, and jumping to bat away toys we threw for her like a goalie in a World Cup match. The only thing she couldn’t seem to do was jump onto the kitchen counters (not such a bad thing, come to think of it).
As I’ve since discovered, her true special need is love. This cat meets me at the door every day, screaming like I’m Paul McCartney, or maybe she’s just so glad I made it home alive from the dangers of the urban jungle. (She also routinely does her joy-screaming routine when I leave the apartment to get the mail, a process of about thirty seconds.) Sometimes she wakes me at four in the morning just because she’s lonely. And sometimes I’m making dinner or doing the dishes or watching TV and I catch her just looking at me and purring.
Maybe I’m making her sound too needy, but seriously, isn’t this why people get pets? So they can see themselves through the eyes of another creature who knows nothing of betrayal, duplicity, or even subtlety, but just loves without apparent limits?
I began to realize I was the one with special needs. God, knowing my deep compulsion to feel useful and do-goodery, clearly put this cat in my path to show me how little I know about love, how much more I am loved than I ever imagined. Who would have guessed anyone could just stare at me adoringly while I make dinner? Who would have guessed I merited tap-dancing enthusiasm just for walking in the door on any given day? Can it possibly be that this is only a shadow of the joy God feels when I turn around from whatever sin entangled me and head back home?
And can I, with all my handicaps, learn to love God the way my cat loves me? Can God’s presence with me make me happy, even when I’m watching TV or doing chores? Can I wake up every morning and say, “YES! Another twenty-four hours with God!” Can I run in God’s direction, powered by joy despite my spiritual limp?
Yep, that’s my God. The one who is always lavishing love on me despite my weakness and my unworthiness and my utter unpreparedness. The one who teaches me through a three-legged cat. The one who made this whole weird, wonderful world and tricked me into loving it in the first place.