Saturday, March 12, 2011

But I'm going hungry ...

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – Psalm 30

“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.” – Psalm 32 

I asked the question the other day: How can one feel blessed or protected by God when it seems many others are not? I ask the question again.

My cat Epitome died yesterday. I finally got what I had really been waiting for months to hear: permission from a vet to go ahead and have her put to sleep. This particular vet told me that while Epitome’s blood work came back pretty clean, that actually confirms that the mass in her abdomen is cancer, and that no matter what, she would not live until our move to Virginia this summer. She had lost so much weight in the past few weeks, and putting her on steroids would only prolong the inevitable. So I brought her right in.

Christy took time off from work to join me; I was very grateful for that. It was much different from when my beloved childhood cat Eowyn died. I was 13 then, and the vet didn’t seem all that compassionate to me. It was one shot while Eowyn struggled, and her struggling got me so worked up that I ran crying out of the room, and then beat myself up for a long time afterward for not having had the courage to stay to the end.

This was so different. First there was a sedative, which the vet gave her in a different room so as not to disturb Christy’s and my solemnity. Epitome was still wide awake when she came back, and she tried to jump off the table. But I held her firmly and whispered gently to her. Very quickly she got sleepy and lay down. The vet left us alone with her for a few minutes. We both just stroked her fur and told her again and again how much we loved her. Her eyes never closed (a mark of this particular sedative). When the vet came back, Epitome was unconscious. He shaved a little spot and put in the needle, and within seconds, her breathing and heartbeat stopped.

We told Sarah the news when I got her home from school. We had prepared her about a week ago for the inevitability. She said, “ohhh,” in a sympathetic voice, but she very quickly lost interest in the subject and wanted to play. We did, and we ate a snack, and we read The Tenth Good Thing about Barney. This got Sarah talking and thinking again. I had already begun digging Epitome’s grave in the afternoon; Sarah gladly came out and helped me finish it.

We kept coming back to the topic, gently, throughout the evening. Over dessert we realized a few things that are suddenly very different:

1)      Christy and I will never again lie awake at night hearing our other cat Henry eat and wondering whose food he’s eating.
2)      Come to think of it, Henry will now have little or no cause to do anything naughty ever again.
3)      Christy and I will never again give Epitome our ice cream bowls to lick clean.
4)      Epitome will never again rest her chin on my wrist while I type. (This reminds me of the characteristic way Eowyn used to lie on my lap, and how much I missed that immediately.)
5)      We can now leave open boxes on the floor without fear of them being peed in. And we didn’t mention this to Sarah, but I’ve already contacted Home Depot about replacing our living room carpet.

On Facebook, in reaction to the news, our friend Cindy put it best: “The answers to our problems are not always pleasant. Now you know why you couldn't find anyone to take her; she was meant to spend the rest of her life with you.”

This was our private sorrow yesterday. Meanwhile, in Japan, sorrow is widespread and public. We were relieved to hear that my brother, his wife, and their newborn son Noah (pictured) are OK in their home in Utsunomiya. Word that a nuclear plant may melt down is of grave concern, though. And then, on the north coast, all those people swept away by the waters. Where was God in that moment? Where is God as their loved ones suffer?

Epitome went hungry at the end. Her cancer kept her from holding anything down. Now she is not hungry anymore. Hunger is a mark of Lent.

As Jesus was driven into the desert to be tempted, he went hungry. He emptied himself of everything, including food, so he could receive God as fully as possible. He refused to turn stones into bread to feed himself. I imagine this temptation also applied to the world: he refused to magically feed the hungry of the planet. Why do you suppose he did that? Why did he keep his ministry localized, teaching and healing just a few at a time?

To quote a great old song by Temple of the Dog: “I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled.” Here’s “Hunger Strike.”

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