The Boss

She was tiny and unobtrusive, a dainty, quiet cat.  She first appeared as a minute skin and bones, tail-less kitten, huddled in the road, too weak to budge.  My son, Josh, rescued her, telling me excitedly that he’d found a manx.  Not exactly- more like a fan belt cat.  For three weeks, the starved, pitiful bundle of dull fur spent most of her waking hours on my shoulder.  My husband, not exactly a cat lover, suggested rather forcefully that we rehabilitate and re-home her.  Naturally I hated that idea, but I had some time to figure it out, and so I kept at it.

Little by little, Boss put on  weight, and even left my shoulder from time to time.  She refused to use the litter box, and had to be taken outside to potty.  One Monday morning, something spooked her, and she streaked off into the woods.  We looked and called, but any cat savvy person knows how effective that was.  After a few days, we quit looking, but I admit to praying that she would come back.  Jon said, with some satisfaction, that she’d  found a new home, probably muttering  aside, “Or the coyotes got her”.

Later in the week, Jon did a remarkable thing; he suggested we take a walk.  Now, although I loved a good ramble,  I knew it wasn’t  his favorite activity.   Besides, it was a hot, humid, Mississippi afternoon- oppressive, in fact.  Not sure what had gotten into him,  but happy to oblige, I put on my walking shoes.  We strolled up our ridiculously long gravel driveway, out onto the dusty residential lane toward the pond.  Nothing ever seemed to happen around the pond, unless you counted the time five cows escaped and stopped there for refreshment.  And so, today, we expected to see a snapping turtle or a snake- or if we were lucky- a red-headed woodpecker.  We weren’t especially quiet, so it was surprising we even heard the faint mew.

Jon stopped and turned  in the direction of the sound.  His face said two things:  “Impossible!”  and “Oh no!”.  I began to croon “kitty, kitty, kitty”, and a tiny figure bounced out of the brush and headed straight for my incredulous spouse.   She played him for all she was worth, ignoring the one who had practically worn her for weeks, the one who had fed her every few hours when she arrived.   She made a beeline for  DOG MAN and wouldn’t leave.  She rubbed against his legs.  She mewed pitifully.  She gazed up at him with baby kitty eyes.  And it worked.  He sighed, picked her up, and took her home.  I could almost hear God laughing.

Jon let her stay even though she never repeated the adoration dance for him, and things returned to normal with Boss spending most of her quiet time in my lap. When we migrated to Ohio, Boss went with us.  She enjoyed roaming around the barn and garden, and she always slept at the corner of my bed.  Close- but not too close- never pushy or demanding.

A few months ago, Boss died of throat cancer.  It seemed ridiculous and unnecessary, and I was angry.  What possible difference could it make to let her live?  I am still puzzled by the timing and the manner of her death- almost exactly a year after Jon’s departure.  But a delightful fantasy plays in my mind:

Jon is summoned to the throne room, and approaches Jesus, who stands with His hands behind His back.  

“Jon”, He says, “Debby sent you something….”

And all heaven laughs as Boss does the adoration dance.

What We Don’t Know

A friend of mine recently used an annoying psychological test to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses.  Most of the results could have been predicted by anyone who knows me.  Although we all like to think that we are deeper than deep, that we have more gifts than common folk, and that we hide our weaknesses well, we are fooling ourselves.

One thing really did surprise me– that my need for independence was exceptionally, off the charts, high.  Would it surprise my family and friends?  I’ll have to ask them sometime, but I doubt it.   What didn’t shock me was that I have a tendency to be a mite…critical.

Putting people in mental boxes gives closure.  And I like rapid closure, so that I can get on with my very important plans. If someone hurts me-or at the very least- doesn’t help me, he becomes the bad guy.  So once my rapid assessment is made, once the needle moves to “He’s an idiot”,  I’ll just move on- without him.   But there’s always a moment, between the  criticism and the dismissal, where if I listen,  I’ll hear a “What now?”.   Like a warning bell,  “What now?”  reminds me to slow down, calm down, and admit that I don’t know everything.  And sometimes, when I look closer, I find a truth that stuns me; that makes me less prone to be self-righteous, callous, or impatient.

A Jewish nurse found an elderly patient sobbing one day.  When questioned, all the  old lady would say was, “They won’t give me any bread.  They won’t give me any bread.”  Apparently, this was not a new grievance; the staff had learned to ignore it.  Noting that the patient looked well fed and alert, the nurse found this perplexing.  Then she had an idea.  “What kind of bread won’t they let you have?” she asked.  The patient took a deep breath and explained, “They won’t let me have challah bread for the Sabbath, and I only need a small piece.”  Enlightened, the nurse found a bakery, bought a little challah, and soothed a soul.  Unwilling to label her patient’s request as a senile perseverance, she paused between criticism and dismissal.

How easy it is to let criticism have the last word!  Mentally celebrating labels like :  “senile”, “selfish”, “hypocritical”, “arrogant”, “shallow”, “vain”,  “touchy”, and allowing them to stand as symbols for human beings makes severing  relationships all too easy.  John Ortberg writes:  “One of the ministries to which I am called is to free people- repeatedly if necessary- from the little mental prisons to which I consign them.”  But aren’t people senile, selfish, hypocritical, arrogant, shallow, vain, and touchy sometimes?  Of course.  But there is always so much that we don’t know.

Jesus’ command “Do not judge and you will not be judged“, is found sandwiched between “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful“, and “Give, and it will be given to you“.   A merciful impulse can overpower a judgemental attitude and generate gifts that bless.

Maybe I should put my “off the chart” longing  for independence to good use- in choosing mercy over judgement.  All I have to lose is my self-righteousness.