Le Morte de Beau


The Salvageable family lost a faithful companion this week.

Bo joined us eleven years ago when one of my coworkers needed to find a new home for her cat because of her daughter’s allergies. The cat was about five years old at the time. They had obtained him from an animal shelter which had already named him Bo; my family wasn’t excited about the name, but the cat was already used to it. To give him a little more dignity, we often spelled it Beau.

When he joined the family, he wasn’t interested in curling up on a lap. He preferred to be pet while standing on or near a lap. As he grew older, he became more of a lap cat. I found that he liked to be cuddled, held upside down like a human baby while I stroked his head and face. It seemed to me that he was reliving kittenhood, remembering being washed by his mother, so sometimes while cuddling him I would say to him, in my best James Earl Jones voice, “Bo, I am your mother.”

Bo also enjoyed supervising food preparation in the kitchen. He had a favorite stool from which he could supervise the chopping of vegetables and other states in putting together a meal. He loved the smell of cooking meat. He also associated the sound of the can opener with juice drained from canned tuna, which he was allowed to drink from a bowl. Even if he was napping, the noise of the can opener would rouse him and call him to the kitchen. The cook would usually let Bo smell the lid of the can if its contents were not tuna, just to let him know he was not missing anything good.

Bo sometimes would get excited and energetic and would tear around the house. He especially loved high places—the tops of bookshelves, the piano, the china cabinet, and the grandfather clock. He would even curl up and sleep in some of those places.

He liked being part of a large family. Some of his favorite moments involved sitting in the living room while several people carried on a conversation. When only one or two people were in the house, he would sometimes wander from room to room, crying plaintively. He came to like the sound of his own voice; he identified the areas in the house with the best echoes and lectured loudly in those places.

October 2012 brought the Mayan apocalypse to the Salvageable family. Cars were breaking down right and left, the computer crashed, followed shortly by the printer, a favorite co-worker left for a different job, and Bo added to the turmoil early in November. When my daughters were leaving early in the morning for a dance competition, Bo managed to slip outside. I didn’t miss him until suppertime, when I tore apart the house looking for him and also searched outside. When the rest of the family returned that night, the search was repeated, but with no success. We went to bed tearfully. The next morning he was found under the backyard deck of a neighbor’s house. He seemed no worse for the experience, and we were glad and relieved to have him back.

Bo had chronic respiratory problems, probably allergies. We sometimes wondered if he was allergic to himself. While he was capable of a genuine purr, more often he showed his contentment through heavy breathing. In November 2017 Bo had a sudden loss of balance which likely was due to a stroke. He was unable to walk for a couple of days, then gradually regained his equilibrium, but he was never the same after that. He would often tilt his head when looking at people, which I suspect was compensation for double vision. The last eighteen months have been, for the family, a bonus time with Bo, because we realize that we could have lost him when he had that stroke.

This spring his health began to deteriorate. His breathing troubles increased, and he began to lose weight. The veterinarian gave him antibiotics and steroid shots, and we spent money on high-calorie cat foods, as well as supplementing his diet with meat from our table. He still ate, but his body apparently lost the ability to nourish itself from food. Day by day his strength diminished. We did our best to make him comfortable. Like an old soldier, Bo faded away, until he breathed his last Thursday morning.

The Bible is unclear about whether we will be reunited with our pets. There will be animals in the new creation: “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.” The only mention of the soul of animals is found in Ecclesiastes, where Solomon says, “Who knows?” Previous generations of Christian teachers insisted that animals had no souls, and therefore had no afterlife. More recent teachers have said, “You will be happy in heaven; so if you need your pets to be happy, they will be there.” I am inclined to believe that animals who have had a close relationship with believers have gained enough soul from that relationship to be reunited in the new creation. We will find out when we get there. Maybe not, but possibly, Bo is waiting for that reunion as he used to wait for his people to come home. J.

cat at door

Rejoice with me…

I just had a really difficult weekend. I was anxious almost every moment I was awake, with all the symptoms: racing heart, shallow breathing, shaky legs, shaky hands. In fact, my daughter even noticed in church that my hands were shaking considerably.

I have a good idea what causes this anxiety—it comes from a large package of events all tied together in one weekend. A birthday in the family (not my birthday), family visiting from out of town, members of the family getting ready to go back to school (including me getting ready to teach), members of the family with health issues and with money issues, a big reception where I work tomorrow night for which I am preparing a display, and one or two other things I am not going to mention at this time.

It seems, though, that in the trying times in my life, one small happening always comes to symbolize them all. That one event, no matter how unconnected to the other concerns, becomes the focus of all the anxiety. This weekend that small event was the discovery, Saturday night, that the chain I was wearing around my neck no longer had the silver cross, one that has been on that chain for the thirty years I have owned it and worn it.

Now it’s just a piece of jewelry, a reminder of the true cross, but a silver cross all the same, with no magical or superstitious powers. No doubt it could be replaced. Losing that cross, though, was the final straw in a weekend gone wrong. Of course Sunday morning after breakfast and before church I walked through the house, trying to see where the cross had landed. It has come off its chain before, but I usually find it in my clothing. I searched and shook the clothing I had worn on Saturday. I was pretty sure the cross was still on the chain when I got home from the library and changed clothes Saturday afternoon, so I thought the cross should be in the house. Members of the family were helping me look.

Then I remembered that I had made a quick run to Walmart after changing clothes. Since there was time, I went back to Walmart, checked the parking lot, then asked at the customer service desk. Someone even got a key and checked the locked drawer where Walmart keeps more expensive lost items that have been found in the store. The cross was not there. I walked through the store to the aisles where I had shopped, but the floor was clean everywhere. I looked carefully in the parking lot again, then went home to go to church.

During the Bible readings at church, I remembered that I had spent some time reading Saturday afternoon with a purring cat curled up in my lap. (To add to the irony, that cat entered the family’s life in that same Walmart parking lot last fall.) The time spent reading and petting the cat came to mind in church because it had been the most calming part of the weekend so far. I remembered that I had looked at the floor in that room but had not felt through the cushions of the chair. I did my best to put the missing cross—and all the other worries of the weekend—aside to take part in the service. Then, when we got home from church, I checked throughout and under that chair.

No, the missing cross was not there.

Later Sunday afternoon I was walking through the kitchen—pacing through the house, actually, while trying to do some writing—and glanced toward the pantry. I had looked in that pantry for the missing cross more than once that morning and that afternoon. I even remember searching through a basket on the floor. Now, I saw, next to the basket, a plastic bag filled with plastic spoons and knives that had been there for days. The missing cross was lying right on top of that bag. It must have fallen off the chain while I was getting a snack Saturday night, but I cannot explain the fact that it went unseen. It was in an obvious place, very close where I had looked hard for it earlier in the day.

So now I can say to you all: rejoice with me, for I have found the cross that I had lost. Additionally I can trust that the answers to all the other worries and stresses of the weekend are also somehow lying in plain sight, ready to be seen when I have been prepared to see them.

And, somehow, it seems to me, those answers might also involve a cross.