The day was like any other. Except that it wasn’t.
As usual, my morning ritual is to wake to a pot of fresh Starbucks Verona Roast, programmed to brew at precisely 5:00 so when I roll out of bed at 5:10 I don’t have to wait for my first sip of the new day. I do some reading and praying and then I sit down at my laptop for some writing time before the rest of the house starts stirring.
Then, after the boys are out the door—one to high school, one to work—at 6:45, I shed my bathrobe and pull on jeans, shirt, and barn boots. Yellow lab Rose follows me out the front door and we play a few rounds of fetch with the first toy she finds laying in the yard. I walk to the barn for horse feeding and stall cleaning.
So I come to the large sliding doors, the entry to the west side of the horse barn. I open the doors and look down the aisle. My heart starts to beat wildly.
I see fur.
Lots of cat fur all over the floor.
I walk a few steps in and I see several piles of loose cat feces on the barn aisle floor, evidence of cats scared out of their minds and unable to control their bowels. Beside the cat feces is blood—fresh blood on the cement.
Wild with fear of finding dead barn cats, I pick up a wad of fur and examine the color. Gray mostly, with some white mixed in. I think it’s Ellie’s, the tabby we adopted from the humane society nine years ago when we moved to this farm.
I think the worst—a coyote or two came into the barn looking for a midnight snack and found some fresh meat. My husband and I had heard a pack of them yipping outside our bedroom around 11:00 the previous night. Their haunting calls tell us they are packed up and on the prowl.
It’s not hard to get into our barn. Our lab does it all the time, trying to help herself to the bowl of cat food we keep high on the hay bales. She just lodges her snout between the slightly opened sliding doors and she pushes one door till her body can fit through. Surely, coyotes can do the same.
I look up and find Piglet, our blonde cat, sitting motionless on the highest hay bale. I cannot entice him down. So I climb up to him and find him not normal—no usual greeting, no usual purring when I pet him—just sitting there like he had been stunned, scared.
The other two cats are nowhere to be found. I assume Ellie is gone for good, ripped apart and in the bottom of some coyote’s stomach. My imagined playback of the scene nauseates me.
Phil, our 19 pound black and white cat, is gone also, though I saw no evidence of his fur. Having given up my search for Ellie, I leave the barn calling, “Phil! Here kitty, kitty, kitty!”
The most social of the three, Phil usually comes running when he hears me call.
No sighting. No response to my calls. No Phil.
I am worried.
Maybe the coyote had killed two of our cats, not just one, leaving Piglet an orphan once again. (His name is Piglet because our vet found him orphaned as a kitten by the road in front of a pig farm and convinced me to adopt him—that flea and ear mite infested beast I couldn’t refuse, being Mother Nature and all).
So I go searching for Phil. I wander through the yard calling and head to the back terrace covered in grapevines where the cats like to hang out routinely. I survey the entire trellis but don’t see him. I climb the logs and suddenly, there in the furthest, dark back corner, I spot a big ball of black and white, motionless.
It is Phil.
He has stuffed himself high under the roof eve to the south of our second floor balcony outside our library loft. I call to him.
Nothing. No movement.
His face in the corner, I can’t see his eyes. I can’t tell if he is alive or dead.
I climb on top of the trellis and scoot on my stomach, hoping to find him alive. As I get within two feet of him, he turns his head and, with wild eyes, he growls and hisses at me. I interpret:
“Don’t you DARE come closer! Stay away! Don’t even TRY to touch me or you will pay BIG TIME!”
I ignore his warning and pay a painful price.
I tell him it’s OK, that I’m not going to hurt him, that I know he’s terrified, but that I want to examine him to see if he needs help. For all I know, he has some large gash that might need stitched.
Inching forward, Phil growling and hissing louder, I grab him quickly by the nape of his neck and pull him toward me. Out swings his right paw, nailing me straight in the middle of my exposed upper chest, cutting me open and leaving two bloody, four-inch long stripes.
He is wild. Feral-like. Terrified. Furious.
I quickly assess and find most of the fur on his back gone. Otherwise, I don’t see any gashes or punctures. I release him and he runs, stuffing himself back into the dark corner under the eve, still hissing at me. And that’s where he stays motionless for three entire days.
I put out food and water. Doesn’t touch either. Doesn’t come down to relieve himself. Clearly, this poor cat is utterly traumatized.
I deliver the sad news to our family of what I suspect happened to Ellie. We are all sad.
Three days later, Todd suggests I take Piglet out to the terrace to join Phil for possible comfort. The cats spend the day up there and by evening when I check, I see they had both come down and made their way back to the barn, perching themselves high up on the hay bales. The hurt and scared do need empathic company to come out of their scared places.
I was relieved.
Phil was starting to recover from his trauma.
Still no sightings of Ellie, alive or dead.
I had given up.
Next morning, I went out to feed horses and slipped open the barn door as usual. Walking the aisle, west to east, I passed the hay on my left and saw a cat eating from the bowl up on the hay—a GRAY cat.
IT WAS ELLIE!
SHE WAS ALIVE AND BACK!
I climbed the hay bales and, though skittish, Ellie let me pick her up. I saw her fur gone all around the left side of her neck. The skin revealed two puncture wounds. She had been bit hard but her wound was already healing without signs of infection. Since our cats are current with their rabies vaccines, I had no concern.
The whole horrible incident got me thinking about sudden, unexpected hurts by others in our lives—in our homes—within our families. How words and actions can scare and scar. How we can run for refuge and hide ourselves away. How we can stay put in our tight, shadowy places, barely moving, licking our wounds. How a kind soul offering a little bit of empathy can do wonders for healing the scared and hurting.
But there are others . . .
There are others who don’t know how to love or be loved, really. There are others who wound and don’t care, let alone apologize. And we sit with sadness for love lost or love never given in the first place.
But God knows what we need. We need honest, trusting, caring, safe people in our lives who have the capacity to listen and offer empathy. We need reciprocal intimacy. God can and does give us such people, as long as we’re open to receiving. Sometimes receiving means we need to “adopt” mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, because sometimes relatives can’t give us what we need, for one reason or another. Sometimes relatives don’t want what we have to offer either.
And sometimes, the people we should be able to trust the most to care and not hurt are the ones who care the least and hurt the most. Sometimes it’s family that gangs up on you and rips you apart. In these situations, it’s good to love from a bit of a distance.
But always, it’s good to let safe people in—to discover that the world is full of people who are capable of loving deeply and capable of being deeply loved. We need not walk through life alone and starving. God gives in abundance to all who will seek and receive from His generous hand.