There was no Vae Obscurum in January. Here, it seems to be the cruelest month, one prone to take our cats when their time is finished. On January 6, Epiphany, it was our dear orange buddy Gato’s turn to go ahead of us, as did T.R. on New Year’s Day 2009 and his brother Gordon three years later, on January 30.
In 2006 a homeless cat, two or three years old, tried to take up residence in a big house that surely, he must have thought, had room for him. Unfortunately, the big house was actually a hotel turned historical museum in Fredericksburg, Texas … and they no longer take boarders, feline or otherwise. There was an equipment yard in back of the place with shelter and enough human attention for a cat obviously missing his original people, ones no amount of advertising could locate. He stayed on long enough for the maintenance crew to name him Gato … Spanish for cat.
So it was Gato had only two of T.S Eliot’s prescribed three names. Denied a fancy name, he went forward with his family name and the one known only to himself, and it wasn’t long before the Editress-to-be noticed.
Gato became the official campus kitty of the National Museum of the Pacific War: fed, housed in basic but comfortable accommodations in a tool shed, and cared for by the best vets in town on the organization’s dime. He was able to enjoy the Japanese Garden of Peace once the humans were gone, and could jump from the sidewalk level to the top of its eight-foot surrounding wall using his massive back legs. His food bowl was raided by opossums, and three battles with unknown creatures each left him wounded and under care of the Editress for chunks of missing skin.
For a year and a half this was his life, exploring and hunting the grounds at night, and regularly losing his breakaway collars, which were later found across campus in various places. The Editress worried constantly all that time, hating to leave him at night but not selfish enough to deny her organization its mascot … the Tiger in the Garden. Eventually, a rodent infestation needed to be addressed in a way incompatible with a resident cat, and no one but his constant caretaker and beneficiary stepped up to the job of being his human mother.
That Gato wanted nothing more than a home and family was evident. He shared the contents of his food dish and in no way bullied his way into place in our household. When we found Gato and T.R. sharing napping space on the Big Red Chair. we knew his acceptance was complete. He would know T.R. only a couple more months before it was time for us all to mourn Gordon’s brother.
Gato was the best-behaved cat we have ever known. He never lost his streetwise caution. He despised anyone in uniform: Boy Scouts, delivery drivers, it didn’t matter; those were the only times we heard him growl. He didn’t know what to think of being held and kissed, even after a decade. He adored laps and blankets, though, and the snuggling under the latter was a talent he taught himself. We loved him so.
Some think a cat doesn’t have a soul. I saw Gordon’s one day when he was looking into my eyes doing the same thing to me. If his soul wasn’t there, neither is mine. All of our cats recognized love as well. Gato would come mousing around for it, and retire to a nap after he got his share. He was someone, and that’s why he got a name.
Gato’s life mattered in the way Elizabeth Goudge recognized when she wrote, “Nothing living should ever be treated with contempt. Whatever it is that lives, a man, a tree, or a bird, should be touched gently, because the time is short. Civilization is another word for respect for life.”
We knew and treasured Gato for somewhere in the vicinity of four thousand days. He never had to go to the vet for sickness, despising his regular visits on principle regardless. We noticed him off his food on his last weekend, and he had to endure only one truly bad day with the acute onset of pain from a massive but undetected tumor on his liver. No one had time to help him along until his suffering passed into the evening dinner hour, and he left us with the help of a vet willing to make a house call. It was a day one of us was available to comfort him all the way through, and that someone turned out to be me.
Gato traveled on with our every recommendation. His precious life made a difference in our own. Because we loved him, we know God loved him more, and that’s why we hope to see him one bright day at the New House, the one providence has made for us all who loved to find each other again. To this day, we recommend ‘I Will See You in Heaven” by Franciscan friar Jack Wintz for people mourning their departed pets.
It takes a special kind of courage to love, once one understands the price to be paid by one or the other of the participants. More so, perhaps, for those who have pets, who seem to be purposed with the task of teaching us how to lose someone we love and move on while enduring the pain of grief.
God’s loving promises were demonstrated by his Son’s mastery of death. This life we struggle through is a testing ground, a training camp, a foundry where His work in us continues through our days to the end set in the Mind and accomplished by the Hand of our Craftsman. Be careful, attentive, and reverent with them. Pay attention to what the Spirit is doing with you in each one. Take care in who you allow to use your days, for they won’t last forever. Forever comes once they finish, for good or bad.
As I said, we passed through four thousand of ours with Gato. Only one was truly bad, which is an amazingly blessed ratio. Each of them was a gift, and knowing this through faith brings us through the pain of missing him to joyous gratitude. That’s what it is to believe.
Choose to love, -DA
In production news, Boone and Sean’s Ghosts of the Republic is out of editing and passing through two rounds of proofreading as I write this. Hopefully, we will see the title to move into pre-publication and then full release this month. As always, those of you who are here will find out first.