Originally pubished in The Valley Press April 2004
My veterinarian says my new one-eyed cat received, “the Cadillac of eye surgeries.” There’s a nice round ball under his stitched shut lid, so Theo appears to have a perma-wink. The eye surgery cost almost a thousand dollars, which wouldn’t be so unusual if he’d been my pet.
As it was, Theo was one of thirty parasitic and flea-infested cats rescued from a ranch by Project Purr of Santa Cruz (http://www.projectpurr.org/). Project Purr saw to it that Theo and his companions were neutered, spayed and treated for parasites. The ferals were located to colonies where they can live safely.
Theo needed further care; herpes had caused eye ulcers. When they cleared, Project Purr called a veterinary ophthalmologist to remove his long-diseased eye. After that, Lynn, a foster mother and feral trapper for the project, rehabilitated Theo in a small quiet room above her garage.
She fed and groomed him, administered medications, and gave him something new: human love and companionship. Under her care, he began to bloom. When my family and I visited, Theo swatted at a tattered toy mouse, but he didn’t jump high like other cats, so Project Purr paid for an x-ray to make sure nothing major was wrong before they allowed us to adopt him.
When Theo moved in, it was clear he hadn’t lived in a house. Everyday noises startled him. He watched us from under our dining room chairs where he could observe everything, but wasn’t easy to reach, even for our dog and two cats.
As each day passed, he grew more accustomed to us and to being a house cat. Now he climbs in the dishwasher and sleeps on our beds. Most important, he’s learned to receive affection, letting us carry and pet him, and allowing our dog to lick his face.
What does any of this have to do with faith? Everything, I think.
One of the core values of my congregation is this: “As a spiritual community, we strive to discover the resources needed for our work in the world; seeking justice and peace among all people; bringing hope to those in need.”
The women at Project Purr live out this value, demonstrating their belief in the inherent worth of all cats. The donation we made doesn’t come close to the costs of Theo’s care and surgery. In that manner, they provide healing the way Jesus did. They do it because it’s the right thing to do and it is within their power to do so. They do it without hidden agendas. No need to become a follower; simply accept the gift.
Theo, like all of us, is capable of becoming more than we were. He was wounded and neglected, not from evil or malice, but because those who were supposed to care for him lacked the resources to do so well. Like Theo, when we’re too wounded to help ourselves, we need to be open to help when it comes. When we’re stronger, we need to risk asking for what we need.
God doesn’t deposit us in the wilderness and expect us to survive. Family, teachers and friends come into our lives to help us develop skills for independent living. When it goes well, those who love us will let us go when it’s time.
And when we can’t care for those we’re supposed to, like the ranch folks overrun with cats, we need to seek help. Admitting we need help is terribly humbling, and receiving help is even harder, especially when it feels like a judgment or punishment. Receiving help means surrendering what we cling to. It means trusting there is a chance for new life, not only for what we must let go; but also for ourselves.
The blind, the lame, and the lepers found their lives radically changed after their healing encounters with Jesus. We can only imagine how difficult it would be to suddenly see, suddenly walk, or suddenly be made clean, after a lifetime without sight, mobility, or community. The drastic changes and unfamiliarity would be enough to make someone long for the familiar world of their pain. But, five or ten or twenty years later, would any of those who’d been healed choose to go back?
My cat purrs loud as a blender in my ear, and I know the answer.
©Cathy Warner 2004