First you need to know that I am not, as a general matter, a cat person, or really much of one for any sort of critter. I did have a dog, long ago, but probably did not treat him very well. My official stance towards domestic animals is one of studied indifference; I will occasionally scratch the odd ear, if it’s convenient, but otherwise it is a matter of a more or less peaceful coexistence, kind of tolerance by way of benign neglect. I make it a point not to be the one responsible for such things as providing food, cleaning up messes, changing cat litter, etc. I am known to do such things as open a door upon request, and that is the high point of my overt kindness to domestic critters. Fact is, I think my friends Hyena and Dementia have the best approach: their menagerie requires no maintenance in the form of food or water, and, save for mysterious bits of mischief now and then, are not known to leave things about which need cleaning up. So.
My family, however, tends to be a bit differently constituted, and as a result we have two cats. One moved with us years ago from upstate New York to Maryland, and the other was found hiding out under the neighbor’s house not many months after we got here. After we persuaded the poor starving thing to come home with us, she tended to spend most of her time hiding, and thus earned the name “Phantom.” The pecking order between the two is long established; Neko (the elder cat, a male) owns the territory, and Phantom is allowed to exist at his grudging suffrage.
When we moved a couple of months ago, to a house within sight of our old residence (actually the adjacent property) it took some persuading to get either cat to come with us. Neko, however, adapted fairly quickly upon being introduced to the house; but Phantom took to hiding under buildings and had to be lured with food into a live-trap. When she first came in by that means, she hid for two weeks or more in the utility room, and was more than a month before she felt safe enough to venture up the stairs from the basement. When she finally became confident enough to permit herself the run of the house, we waited another two weeks before opening the door to let her out. Then she would look outside, venture out for a minute or so, and come back in. She’s a regular scaredy-cat, with a very narrow comfort zone.
Finally last week after I had let her out for short times in the manner described above, she sat by the door and actually asked, in her feline way, to go out. So this time I did let her go.
We didn’t see her, then, for several days, including two during which there were fierce rainstorms, to the tune of 2″ of rain each time. I began to worry that perhaps we had lost her, and it bothered my conscience just a bit; after all, it was I who had let her out.
So it occurred to me, this morning, to reach a hand up to heaven and pray that Phantom would come home. It’s not the silliest thing I ever prayed for, or the most trivial.
At five o’clock, I found her, at one of her former hiding-places under a nearby outbuilding.
I was ecstatic. Thank you, Jesus! I breathed, for answering my prayer.
I coaxed her with nice words, inviting her to come to me. She warily kept her distance, ducking into a sheltered place if she thought I might come near. So I pulled my cellphone from my pocket and called home, so that a plate of food could be brought out. Poor thing, she was nibbling on blades of grass; it’s possible that she’d not eaten, really for nearly a week. But food would not coax her more than a foot away from her hiding-place.
Meanwhile I was having a theological problem, and I prayed again thusly: Well, yes, thank you Lord for answering half of my prayer; but really, I did ask you to bring her home again, and to do it today. Now, I know that faith, it is said, can move a mountain; but I seem to be having trouble moving this cat! So would you please kind of do a St. Francis number for me, and give me some influence with my little feline sister here? Thus emboldened in prayer, I spoke to her again, addressed her as little sister even; but she would not come with me or accept food from my hand. I called my son, the cat-lover, to come talk to her, and entice her with food if she could. His efforts were fruitless. We left the plate of food there and went home.
At nine PM, there was a sound at the door. There stood Phantom, waiting to come in. She fidgets on my lap as I write, interfering with my typing.
Somehow this gives me hope for peace on earth, food for the hungry, a cure for AIDS, clean air and a balanced budget. I don’t pretend to know just how it works, but I’m here to testify: on matters large and small, to pray for the impossible is worth doing.
Make of it what you will.