Friday, March 20, 2015

I Wrapped Them in the Same Cloth

Two days ago I removed a dead cat from the side of the road. It's the third time I've done this in my life. None of the times was I the one who killed the cat.

Do unto others...

The first time, the owner found me with his beloved pet just as I was moving it from the possibility of being run over again. He started crying. My "I'm sorry" seemed quite inadequate. I left him with the body and his grief.

The second time, I took the body from the street to the grass, went on my way, and saw later in the day that it had been removed.

The third time was two days ago. I thought I saw a dead cat on the shoulder of Westport Road, a very busy road, particularly during the morning commute. I couldn't stop immediately to see if it really was a cat. I was close to work and kept driving, trying to reassure myself that because the body was on the side of the road and not in the middle of it, I didn't need to do anything.  However, as I parked, got out of my car, walked up the stairs, greeted my colleague, and entered my office, my mind didn't stray from that little body and the people who cared for it who would soon miss their companion.

If it were my cat...

I put my things down at my desk and took a piece of cloth from my office. I had originally received the cloth wrapped around a beautiful icon that an artist friend created and gifted to me. Looking at the cloth, I had a short internal debate about whether I should use it, since I wouldn't get it back. I had a small towel in my car that I could use instead. I quickly decided that a cloth that had already been used to envelop something holy was perfect for honoring a life.

I told my colleague what I was doing, walked down the stairs, got in my car, and drove back, looking for the body. I saw it and turned onto the closest side street. I walked towards it with a mixture of sadness and dread; I also questioned if what I was doing was silly. It was just a cat, right?

I have two cats; my calico is currently sleeping on my left; my orange tabby is kneading her paws into my right leg and purring. I leave food out for a feral cat and a growing number of the outdoor neighborhood cats. They are not "just" cats.

I waited on the sidewalk as cars drove by, looking for a low-traffic chance to step into the street. I looked at the body of the large grey tabby, grateful that it seemed only to have suffered the blow that killed it and no further violence. Once the danger of close-driving cars ended, I stepped into the street, took my cloth, and gingerly scooped up the lifeless body. It was already stiff.

I put the wrapped body on the grass next to the sidewalk and walked away. It was quick. On the way back to the car, I looked at the two nearby houses and wondered if I should knock on the doors to ask if they knew this cat. I didn't knock.

As I got into my car, tears started rolling down my face. I should've stayed a moment simply to honor the life. I should've stayed to allow myself to grieve. 

Why am I crying? It was just a cat. The argument was unconvincing. And then Syria. How many people have died in Syria and because Death is so masterful at stealing lives (but not Life), bodies cannot be properly tended to? What does it feel like when people  cannot honor and mourn their loved ones as they would like? What does it feel like to know that someone deliberately took those lives? And then What was it like to witness Michael Brown's body lying in the street for hours? I didn't take the time to explore these thoughts. It was easier not to. It's still easier not to. How often do we take what seems to be the easier way, or at least the safer one, when it comes to entertaining Pain and Death?  How often does Pain stick around longer than we'd like because we haven't properly tended to him?

The tears kept rolling as I parked. Before getting out of the car, I was successful in slowing, but not stopping, the drip from my eyes. A colleague was arriving at the same time and I told her what I'd just done. She offered words of comfort. I walked up the stairs and entered the office. I kept my sunglasses on, so my other coworkers couldn't see my red eyes.

Another colleague and I started talking. A few minutes into the conversation, I was able to take off my sunglasses. The tears dried and I went on with my day, carrying a bit of heaviness with me. I took a different route home, so I didn't know until the next morning that someone had taken the body away. I hoped that seeing my attempt at care offered a moment of comfort in the shock of its discovery.

Love thy neighbor...

I think I got it right with the cat.

I didn't get it right the next day when I snapped at someone because of the way he phrased something.  Or later when I was so eager to speak that I didn't listen well. Or later when I felt a tinge of animosity towards someone over wounds she probably didn't know she rubbed salt in.

So often I don't get it right.

But I will keep trying. I hope that with practice I will learn to love and honor lives better - the lives that help me to be comfortable in my own skin and the lives that challenge me to stretch it uncomfortably. The vibrant green lives springing up around me, and the furry lives that are entrusted to my care. The lives that I notice and the ones that I don't. The lives that are no longer, but carry memory through me.

I come back to my icon, the one that had been wrapped in the cloth  that I used with the cat. It sits on a table in my office. It is two panels of Mary holding a young Jesus. On the first panel Mary is an Israeli Jewish woman and Jesus is a Muslim Palestinian boy. On the other panel Mary is a Muslim Palestinian woman and Jesus is a Jewish Israeli boy. These panels - images incorporating Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, images bringing together people who are too often pulled and pulling apart - remind me what it can look like to love my neighbor. They remind me what it means to do unto others, to put myself into another's shoes, to practice Love. Always.

May it be so.