Cats, Chaos, the Cosmos and My Call
For Jennifer who was my friend.
‘As we live our lives, we are in a sense creating a picture, a canvas. Every day we add strokes to the growing picture. I find it very helpful in my prayers to reflect on my life so far and ask if I had to paint a picture of my life – what would it look like? And then to ask for grace to glimpse something of what God’s picture of me is like.’ -Br. Geoffrey Tristram
This morning I awoke to Django (our Pyrenees/Golden mix) begging me with insistent panting and a low growl to let him out back. When I say this morning, what I actually mean is 2 a.m. I get up and try to focus. The tiny Rottweiler puppy Lily rolls off the bed to the floor and suddenly I hear her make the dreaded vomit noise. You know the one. I hear it happen before I can reach the puppy and then, in the silent black of my room, I step in said upchuck. (I suppose I find I’m grateful she wasn’t still on the bed.)
I let Django out and he immediately trots to the far corner of the yard and begins to pester what I can only assume is Mr. Possum on the fence. His low growl turns into a mad barking and I cuss the dog. I somehow manage to wrangle the two dogs inside and I pad over to the icebox for a bottle of water. I am barefoot and the sensation of cold water hits the soles of my feet before I realize it should not be there. I am standing in a small lake of water.
Upon inspection the water is coming from the washing machine in the utility room adjacent to the fridge. I look to see if Alec has perhaps loaded the washing basket over-full as he tends to do- but he has not. I dry all the water I can with a bath towel and then run a very small test load in the washer. By now it is 3 a.m. and between all the dogs’ barking and my cussing, we have now woken up the wild cats that live in my garden. They are all gathered around the front door howling in anticipation of the food they think must be inevitably coming.
A little back-story on the felines: my neighbor across the street (a gracious lady I should have taken the time to know better) took care of all the feral cats in our neighborhood. I watched her do this for a couple of years with admiration and curiosity. I had no idea how many were hers and how many she took in. One day about three months ago, she came and knocked on my door. “Hi,” she said. “I’m moving to Maine tomorrow, can you take care of the cats?” (I’m paraphrasing, but not much.)
Now you might be tempted here to think I would lament such a request… I did not. When she had asked me her eyes were bright with tears and I knew she was worried. She explained all the cats had been tagged and fixed but were still very wild save one- Luna, who would appreciate the occasional petting.
Of course I took the bowls and the food and began to feed them on the reg. Three months later they are all still wild but they have come to know and love me (even the giant Tom who lives under the mesquite tree in the meadow comes to call). They gather comfortably on the sidewalk leading up to the porch where they sprawl out and discuss their day and at night they reside under the sage and rose bushes. They are still leery but will now let me pet them in short bursts and sometimes I can hear them purring against their will.
Anyhoo, they now all believe it to be actual morning, not fake morning at 3:30 a.m. when we should all still be sleeping. I feed them a small amount which makes the indoor house pets think it is time for them to eat too. By the time I am finished feeding everyone, walking everyone, cleaning the vomit and watching the washer do its thing, it is 5 a.m. I have an hour and a half before my alarm will ring.
My first instinct is to nestle back down into my bed, pull the covers up and hit the snooze button until I am almost late to work. What I do instead is pull my Great-grandmother Tatum’s quilt off my bed and go out and lay down on the driveway to look at the stars.
It is still pitch black and the temperature is a crisp 49 degrees. I have waited all summer for fall to come calling and now that it has found me, I find myself quietly going over the events of the last week. Friday night during a quick text conversation with someone I hold dear the question was posited, ‘Are you happy?’ I hadn’t really thought about it then because I knew it needed my full attention to answer truthfully.
The last fortnight has been full of weird and wonderful moments and I replay them as I consider his question. (For the record, stepping in the throw-up was not wonderful.)
Last Friday I shared a meal with my friend, mentor, priest and confidante Cathy. (More on this in a moment.)
Monday morning I had my theology class and the discussions were thought-provoking and most of the participants were open to the discussions and involved, aware and present in such an invaluable way. I left feeling so thankful that I am able to be a small part of such an exceptional class and group of people.
Later, I got a phone call from the Cajun, which was surprising and welcome. (Yes, we still talk. No, it’s not like that anymore.) We were having a perfectly lovely conversation when he held my feet to the fire a little bit over something he was pretty passionate about and I got my feelings hurt more than a little. The details aren’t important. He was right and I knew it, but it was the way the conversation went that had my heart tighter than a piano wire. The thing is, after it all shook out we were ok. We had the discussion (read: argument), we apologized and both of us meant our apologies, we said we loved each other (which we do) and adulted very well, I think.
Two days later Paxton left out of NYC after a brief visit with his older brother Jack, headed for Morocco. I did not feel apprehensive or uncomfortable. I felt excited for him and honestly, proud that I had raised a child so well that he feels comfortable moving half-way across the world alone. This doesn’t mean that I do not miss him terribly.
I spoke to Jack after Paxton had left; I guess he sensed my need for his company. We discussed his dating life, his friends and his grades. We also discussed his internship and his job as a Resident Assistant for his dorm at The New School. He is doing so well at his internship that the company’s owner has already asked him to consider a paid position for the summer. (I don’t think he’ll ever come home.) We spoke about his brother leaving and the experiences he was going to have and whether or not he would ever come home. It was a good talk and one I had really needed.
Over an ice-cold dirty martini that night my friend John asked how I was doing. I file that away with my other question and promise myself to think about it later. How AM I doing..?
The dynamic between my youngest son and I is in transition- and that’s being kind. It is not that we are in conflict or unhappy, quite the contrary. But I am used to a houseful of boys who liked being at home, who wanted a home-cooked meal on the table every night and liked to watch movies or television and just lie on my bed and talk about stuff.
Alec likes to be in his own room, he likes to be out and about with his friends and more often than not, he is not home for dinner. He is the kid I must remind not once or twice but SEVERAL times about laundry and keeping his room clean and signing up for the SAT and letting the dog out and brushing his teeth…
Friday night he played a solid football game at the position of center and even though the game was a loss, I was very proud of him. He played a great game. He called after and asked if I would pick him up out front (he usually gets a ride home with his friends). I happily swung around to get him. He was sweaty and tired and hungry.
He decided on Whataburger and as we waited in the line we talked about the game, his friends, his girlfriend, his brothers and his grades. It was the kind of fortuitous talk you hope for as a parent- the kind where truth is being told and you are keenly aware the moment is honest and good.
Saturday night I had what I would consider a pseudo-date with a man I really like but it’s a little complicated and I am not willing to provide many details at this juncture. Needless to say, I kind of invited myself to his humble abode because I needed a television to watch the Razorback ballgame and his Longhorns played during the day. (The only thing I really miss about no television is live sports.) We made plans for the evening- I would provide dinner and he would provide liquor and electronics. Win-win. We had a lovely time and after all the ballgames were finished he put in a movie and we watched until late and our eyes grew heavy. When we both began to feel sleepy I headed home relaxed and happy.
Sunday morning my dear friend and mentor Jane asked me to co-chair adult Christian Ed. The topic was Spiritual Journey. Jane allowed that she would lay the foundation of the discussion and then she wanted me to share what exactly spiritual journey means to me- and share my own journey with the group. I thought a lot about this request and in truth, I had been thinking about this very topic for close to a year with no ceasing.
What I shared with the class was a metered if not overzealous account of my own journey and the love I feel for God and how I live my life in accordance with that love. I’m sure I sounded like an over-age zenned out hippie. It’s not too bitter a pill.
Back to Cathy and lunch on Friday. As most of my loyal readers know (all twelve of you), about a year ago I was turned down again for my postulancy for the Episcopal priesthood. This was the third time to be denied in a process I have been involved in for seven years. Yes, I said seven.
The last time had been tragic for me and in truth, I took a much needed sabbatical from all things church related save the occasional serving on the odd Sunday. I backed away from the commissions I served on, I took a break from my theology class, I quit attending church on any sort of regular basis and I did not attend any extra-curricular church activities. Make no mistake please, I remained steadfast in my love, devotion and relationship with God- but I did not want to be in the pew. What I needed was the space and quiet to deal with my loss, to talk to Papa and to listen for his reply.
About six months in to my self-imposed exile, God began talking to me rather loudly, incessantly really, about the future of my call and what he was very clearly still expecting of me. And as with any good parent/child or husband/wife relationship I began in earnest to talk back. I mean, could I really be willing to put myself out there again…and could he really want me to do so? Well the answer over the course of time was very clearly “yes” and ‘YES’. I could give you specific details but they are kind of private and might make me seem a little crazy.
My eldest son Jack asked me the other day if I just talk to God or if he answers me. He does very definitively answer back. Sometimes it is in nature; sometimes it is music or a piece of prose or Mary Oliver’s poetry. Sometimes I hear him in the wind or feel his breath on the water (I borrowed this from Genesis). When it rains his spirit clothes me in contemplation. Sometimes I am filled with his presence in the clover on the meadow as I watch the aphids work and notice the petite flowers that bloom underneath even the tiniest leaves. I find him speaking to me in the darkness of my bedroom when the first light breaks through the morning. And yes, sometimes I actually hear his voice.
The thing is, the God I know is everywhere. He is in all things- every single thing. And so believing as I do, I feel him absolutely everywhere; I see him, I hear him and experience him in all things in all ways… And I never ever want to feel his absence from me- and you know what? I never do. I never have.
So in trying to ignore his Louis Armstrong-type trumpeting of the last six or so months, I do myself no good service. I am humbled beyond measure to know what little of God I do and I am constantly seeking to know more. When the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, presents himself to me, asks me to do something for him…you better believe I am going to find a way to make it happen or at least give it a really good college try.
Here I sit at lunch with Cathy, having asked her to lunch to as delicately as I can explain to her that I am going to try again- that I must try again. I am struggling to tell her this news in a semi “tidy” bundle, not wanting to seem too fanatical- even though I feel as though my chest might burst any moment with the revelation that has taken up residence in my beating heart.
So there it is: the basic canvas of my life minus bills, banks and bullshit. I feel a little like the sidewalk masterpiece Mary Poppins and Bert created with chalk in ‘Mary Poppins’. Everyday something unique and lovely until the gentle renewing rain washes it away making room for something more beautiful.
Am I happy? Indeed I am. How could I not be? How am I doing? The best I can, I think. I think about what the picture of my life would look like if I painted the contents contained herein and conversely, what it would look like if I were able to glimpse God’s canvas of me. In truth, I feel like my life is a wonderful collaboration of both and probably a little more Jackson Pollack than Rembrandt. Beauty is of course, in the eye of the beholder and so either way, it really is quite something.
It is not the priceless Van Gogh for sale at Sotheby’s but rather a small hidden treasure found at the last flea market of the day. The one painted with care and love, filled with brilliant colors and deliberate brushstrokes. It is the one with the worn edges and the shabby frame.
The one that will be the perfect gift for my Father.