Lent was approaching, and I hadn’t yet decided how to observe it. In my particular tradition, Lent is a time to slow down and examine how we live our faith in the day-to-day. It’s a time to challenge our comfort zones, which can so easily become barriers to a dynamic life of faith.
Last year, of course, we were midway through Lent when the entire world came to a screeching halt. And it didn’t start up again on Easter Sunday.
So this year seemed a little odd. I’d had a year of semi-isolation, yes, but I hadn’t really slowed down. If anything, I was busier than ever. I was focused on work and associations and research and to be honest, with nothing and no one at home to interrupt my introvert self, that comfort zone had gotten a little more rigid. I put on a few extra unwanted pounds, but otherwise the isolation of the pandemic didn’t affect me as deeply as it did others. I kind of liked my rut.
On this particular day, though, a friend stopped by to drop off a book. After placing the book on my doorstep, Jim withdrew partway down the walk and texted me. I came out and stood in the open doorway to visit a moment.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a flash of movement. A cat was running down the alley across from me, a little over a block away.
As Jim and I chatted, the cat made a beeline across the street, down the sidewalk and up my walkway, glancing up at Jim without breaking stride. When he reached me, the cat paused, looked me in the eyes, and walked through the open door into my house.
After Jim left, I went to find the cat. He was sitting on my sofa. I could hear him purring from across the room. I grabbed my phone and took a few pictures. A cat this friendly must have humans somewhere.
The pictures went up on Nextdoor. I searched the “lost pet” websites and bought cat food and kitty litter. Temperatures were dropping that night and I wasn’t tossing the friendly little guy out into the cold.
Besides, I like cats. The first pet I ever had that didn’t have to be shared with my siblings was a little grey tabby with tiger stripes. He disappeared when I went off to boarding school; it broke my heart.
The next day, I let Cat out of the bathroom where he’d spent the night turning a toilet paper roll into confetti. He ran outside the open back door and disappeared. Gone to find his family, I assumed. Minutes later, he returned, meowing loudly at the door. After a while, I let him back in. It was time to take him to the vet to check for a chip.
He had no chip.
I sat down at my desk to see if anyone had responded to my attempts to find his humans. No luck there.
Cat jumped onto my desk and stared at me. Did I mention he’s a grey tabby with tiger stripes?
“You’re gonna to be such a pain in the butt, aren’t you,” I said, and he crawled onto my chest, put one paw on either side of my neck and pressed his face into my shoulder in shameless agreement.
Forget my comfort zone. The cat now interrupts every activity and takes over my desk. When I work, he supervises.
I had to upgrade my noise-cancelling headset so that Zoom depositions wouldn’t be interrupted by indignant yowls when I locked him out of my office.
My daily power naps have long been a perk of being self-employed. My first midday snooze after Cat moved in was interrupted by an unexpected thud! on the bed that my drowsy forgetfulness interpreted as the presence of an intruder. Adrenaline does not mix well with naps.
I decided to shut my bedroom door at night to avoid such surprises. The first night, I woke up out of a deep sleep, every sense suddenly on alert. I’d heard something, but wasn’t sure what. There it was again! Scratching… on the inside of my bedroom door!
Heart pounding, I snapped on the light. Two paws were slid under my door, scratching on the inside to wake me up. Soon there were vocals. Not a simple “meow”, but a three-toned “ah-OOH-uh”, sometimes varied with “AHH-ooh-ah” or even “ah-ooh-AH”, which always sounds like a question.
I yelled, “Cat! Stop!” and realized he needed a name so I could yell at him properly. He looks like Irish Cream in a cup of coffee, so Bailey it is.
One week later, Texas went into a deep freeze. My house lost power. In a time when I’d gotten too busy despite a worldwide pandemic, my personal world now came to a screeching halt.
As the temperatures dropped inside, I took refuge under my covers with my fully-charged laptop, phone, portable charger and Kindle. A camp lantern sat on my bedside table. For the next four days, Bailey joined me. Sometimes he crawled down to my feet like a feline hot water bottle. He watched me on the computer, stared over my shoulder as I read, and occasionally went to monitor the rest of the house.
Since then, I’ve lost a few of those pandemic pounds. It’s hard to snack absently when every bite must be guarded against a curious feline.
I can’t focus just on work anymore: there’s a litter box to clean, food to supply, backyard doors to open and close, and “stop that, bad cat!” to yell from time to time.
My fourth granddaughter was born, and when I finally got to hold her I was horrified to hear myself crooning, “Oh, she’s a good girl, yes she is. Such a good girl.” I may be on my way to becoming that cat lady.
Lent is almost over. Today is Good Friday. Although the pandemic persists, there are signs of hope on the horizon and I think of the disciples’ grief and hopelessness. Spring buds promise new life, and I think of Mary in the garden on Sunday morning, every expectation about to be shattered.
Sometimes we go into Lent with intentionality. We examine how the comfort of our worldview may be hindering our spiritual journey. We solemnly mark the days until Easter Sunday.
But sometimes Lent surprises us. Sometimes, to borrow from Carl Sandburg, Lent comes to us on little cat feet.