Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Requiem for a Stray

Shanti disappeared as mysteriously as she had appeared, wraith-like and starving, back in January. She had arrived like a bonus gift the same week our granddaughter, Tessa Grace, first graced us with her presence.

I had stepped outside between rain showers to grab some fresh air. As I stood in the waning winter sun, a tiny “meow” touched my awareness. Looking around, I thought I spotted a small cat, but it could as easily have been a trick of the fading light. Then I heard the meow again, and suddenly I knew we had been adopted. At least my heart knew. It took a while longer for my head to be sure, but my heart knew right away.

I can still hear my heart saying something to the effect of, “Ah no, please don’t make us love another cat. They’ll just break us wide open, and then where will we be?” You see, we had cats a few years ago, Sophie and Amy. They had both vanished without a trace, perhaps taken by a coyote, maybe a cougar. We live in wild country.

I smiled and answered my heart’s question, “Why, broken open, of course. Again. If we’re going to be in this world, we’re going to love, and lose, and love again. That’s how it works.” My heart sighed, already falling in love with this tiny being.

And so Shanti, small and orange and black with just the tip of her tail and her random paws streaked with white, came into our lives. Through the winter and into the spring this beautiful, shy little angel became part of the family. Over time, she went from barely tolerating a pet to insisting on affection, even running after us if she didn’t feel sufficiently adored.

Shanti hadn’t been around for more than a couple of weeks when she got pregnant (the noise was amazing). We were shocked! She was so small we thought she was too young to go “preggers” on us. Of course, we’d talked about having her fixed, but didn’t think it was an immediate issue. She wouldn’t have let us near enough to catch her anyhow, at least not at the beginning.

Then one day, several weeks later, Shanti was no longer pregnant. We saw no evidence of kittens, no hint any had survived. We finally decided to take her to the vet and take care of business. That weekend was Mother’s Day, and she brought out four babies to show off. We didn’t know she’d been paying any attention to the calendar, but there they were. Oh great, we thought. So cute, totally adorable, and more responsibility. We certainly weren’t going to keep five cats around, no matter how much fun they were to play with.

Eventually we found good homes for three of them, all with friends, and we kept one so Shanti wouldn’t be alone. Ginger, we called him. Ginger Baker, because of the orange markings across his shoulders and because we laughed every time we said his name. Ginger is outside as I write this, meowing for his Mom, who has been gone for days. No trace. We’re all heart broken. It doesn’t feel like she’s coming back. Maybe the coyotes got her. Maybe she just up and died. The vet thought she might have feline leukemia, and wondered if we wanted to “put her down.” We were horrified. And yet, four and a half months later, she’s gone anyhow.

We kept thinking she’d show up. She is a country cat, after all, and knows how to take care of herself. But it’s been six days, and today we finally cried. We need to let go. And I got to thinking about Shanti, and all the lessons she’s already given us, especially around unconditional love, and I decided to write a blog.

Precious memories … a few pictures … a moment of video. Our broken-open hearts. That’s what it’s all about, I think. Life is precious memories, some pictures, present moments strung like beads sparkling in the sun of pure awareness. God came to live with us for a few months, and now it seems she’s moved on. Ginger’s right here, though. He’s half grown, loves to be petted, and he’s just started to purr. We all miss his Mom. And still, with our broken open hearts, we are grateful, so grateful, for life.

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