Life Lessons from a One-Eyed Cat
Do not be surprise at the painful trial you are suffering.
1 Peter 4:12
In May of 2008, I wrote and published an essay about a gray tabby cat my family gave me as a Father’s Day present in 2003. As I explain in the essay, she was struck by a car and ended up losing an eye. Today, thirteen years later, after ruling as queen of the house, she breathed her last.
Thinking about republishing that original essay, which is just as applicable today as it was then, put me in mind of a speech United States Senator George Graham Vest delivered as a young man. He was hired to represent a man suing his neighbor for the killing of his dog. Vest said, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. . . . He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer.” Vest won the case. And though he spoke of the fidelity of dogs, his sentiments were equally applicable to my one-eyed cat, Cutie.
Here’s the original essay: “Life Lessons from a One-Eyed Cat.”
I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised how quickly life jerks you around. Life is going along pretty well then suddenly you’re watching clouds roll by, flat on your back. This happened to my family just a few weeks ago. My wife and daughter were away for the weekend at a mother/daughter retreat. I was joking with my boys about an order their mother gave me to supervise the dreaded task of folding towels when our doorbell rang—someone had run over our cat.
Apparently, she had snuck out of the house the night before and spent the evening in the water drain across the street. Amidst the pizza boxes, Dr Pepper cans, and Star Wars DVD cases no one noticed she wasn’t in the house. In the morning, after consuming massive amounts of donuts, no one gave a thought as to where the cat was . . . that is, until the doorbell rang.
Isn’t that the way life is? Laughter turns into tears with a knock on the door or the ring of the phone? In that moment, what was is no longer. Perhaps it’s the oldest cliché in the history of human language, but life is just not fair. Yet, something within us cries out for fairness, for justice. There is a gnawing in each of us that says, “This is not how it was meant to be.”
What do you do when laughter turns into tears, when what was is no longer? What do you do when your theology of God doesn’t match your experiences in life—when what you know about His justice and fairness runs afoul on the shoals of life?
There are myriad answers to these questions. But a good place to start is not to pretend that we aren’t fully human—full of fears, anger, confusion, questions. The little known prophet, Habakkuk had it right when he accused God of being passive, of being silent, and worse still, of being absent. The Message puts it like this:
God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!” before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil and stare trouble in the face day after day? (Habakkuk 1:2–3)
Habakkuk was wrestling with a universal problem—his theological knowledge of God’s fairness and justice didn’t match his life’s experience. The questions he asked, you’ve asked. The indictment he laid at God’s doorstep receives hardy approval from us. Life isn’t fair. And we wonder why God is passive, is silent, is absent when our lives are going to hell. If you feel like Habakkuk did—like my sons and I did that Saturday morning when the doorbell rang—then do as Habakkuk did—in faith, cry out to God, asking “why” and “how long.” Then, sit quietly and wait for God’s answer. Perhaps you’ll come to the same place Habakkuk did, even in the vortex of the storm. Again, from The Message:
Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!” (4:17–19).
Our cat didn’t die. I confess, I thought perhaps I should tell the vet to put her down and I’d get the family a new cat, like replacing a television that costs too much to repair. But I couldn’t. So after a week at the vet’s office, surgery to repair her jaw and the removal of one eye—and fifteen hundred dollars later—she is very much alive.
I’ve learned once again, life is not always fair. A lesson, I’m sure, I’ll need to learn again. But for now, it’s enough to know that laughter and tears experienced in faith are what make life worth the living. And God, in His mysterious manner, reminded me of this truth through a one-eyed cat.