The Cat Who Became the Avatar of My Heart

   

After fifteen years I am preparing to leave Saint Luke’s and take up a new calling in Philadelphia. It’s big. In every way. Moving is ranked among the top five major stressors, in the same league with divorce, death of a loved one, major illness and job loss. But when people ask how the move is going I say, “Great–we’re doing it gradually so it’s manageable.” But Milo knows better. He’s my cat.

Saying good-bye to people I’ve known and loved for fifteen years hurts, some I met more than 29 years ago when I came to Saint Luke’s the first time as a novice priest fresh out of seminary. Yet when people ask how I’m doing I say, “Well, it’s a challenge but we’re doing all right.” Milo knows better.

He’s been keening, Milo has. It sounds weirdly human, the long undulating wail. The slightest noise, a dropped fork, sends him into frantic hiding. For a cat who gets nervous when we pack a weekend suitcase (a sure precursor of feline loneliness), the vanishing of whole rooms of furniture spikes his anxiety. He nuzzles in for constant petting and ear-rubbing. He shuns his food bowl.

I don’t know when it finally dawned on me, that my cat was acting out my buried emotions. We humans are very good at dissimulation, feeling one thing and showing another. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re covering up because the denial happens in the unconscious and never even bubbles to the surface. I was sure we could plan and manage this move so well that it would be a nothing. I was sure, in other words, that my slick little brain could bamboozle my quivering old heart. People who’d done this before told me I’d be an emotional wreck from all the poignant good-byes. I nodded politely, though inside I was thinking, Yeah but I’m stronger than that. If I know something is coming I can prepare for it. It won’t hurt.

One day last week I finally said to Pam, “I think Milo is telling me what I’m feeling.” His mysterious green eyes like a mood ring, his sudden flinching like a polygraph, putting the lie to my placid façade.

Now when my soul in tiger stripes jumps into my lap I can’t help but smile. I still believe I can outwit life, love deeply without the pain of loss. I preach this message endlessly, that we must open our hearts to all of life, the pain and the joy, but I’m still surprised when that moment comes for me and my heart contracts. But now when Milo climbs into my lap, needing solace and protection, I know he is me. And while I quiet his heart he calms mine.

The big reason I’ve been denying the sadness in my heart is–the wisdom and large-heartedness of the Saint Luke’s community. I tell friends and family, “People tell Pam and me how sad they are, and then tell us how happy they are for us and how this next calling is so right.” What could be more wise, more beautiful, more freeing?, says my brain. To which my heart responds, Yes, and that is just what you are losing, a family that wise and loving.

All I can say to my Saint Luke’s family is, Thank you for making this so easy and so hard.

6 Responses to The Cat Who Became the Avatar of My Heart
  1. Matt
    November 23, 2018 | 11:51 am

    Change is hard, and I think your decision hits particularly hard both ways because of the mutual affection. For me it’s the tug of war between not wanting you to leave and yet knowing you gotta go.

    • David Anderson
      November 23, 2018 | 12:18 pm

      Thank you, Matt—the feeling’s mutual. You are one of the big reasons StL is so important to me. Bless you—

  2. Lindsay
    November 23, 2018 | 2:57 pm

    This is a powerful piece, and I’m glad you shared. I’ve felt a private mourning for a few weeks now. It’s starting to intensify as we are approaching lasts: last sermon, last Evensong, last Sunday. And it somehow seems hard to admit how scared I am of the change. But I’ve grown so trusting of my faith, in huge part because of you, that I have decided that we must approach this all with faith and not fear. It’s knowing about and expecting the loss that seems most heart-aching to me. I have such faith that you will thrive if your next calling. I have faith that StL will survive. I just don’t want to face the change, if that makes sense.

    • David Anderson
      November 23, 2018 | 3:36 pm

      Thanks, Lindsay—you’re one of those reasons StL is so beautiful…and so hard to leave. Change and endings are the only place we truly find new life.

  3. Johnna L Fredrickson
    November 23, 2018 | 3:25 pm

    Blessings and peace to you and yours as the move changes your lives.

  4. Michael
    November 24, 2018 | 11:37 am

    Dear David—amid so many excellent sentences, the last was the best. What a community St Luke’s is. And has become under your shepherding.

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