The girls and I found him in the laundry room of a country farmhouse south of Cleveland, a tiny black and white kitten who seemed to reach out and adopt you from the midst of the litter. The girls’ grandma, who lived in Calhoun, wanted to see him, so another trip to Cleveland, another litter inspection, and Grandma selected the black and white kitty and his calico sister. Bonnie and Clyde.For two and a half years Grandma found great entertainment in their antics, including her favorite: Bonnie would get on one end of the family room, Clyde on the other, and there would ensue a brief staredown. Suddenly, they would run at each other full tilt, climaxing in a simultaneous upward leap, just as they were about to collide. It really was funny. And they didn’t mind putting on repeat performances.Phase One ended on a World Series Saturday night in 1991. When the game was over it was time for a late-night convenience store run. That was when we found Bonnie dead in the road. Some time during the game Clyde had lost his playmate. We let him sniff her body so that on some level of animal consciousness he would understand that she was gone, and then she was buried at the edge of the property, in piney woods where she had always loved to hunt and play.
Clyde settled down after that, became more loving, became, in fact, indispensible to Grandma. As a kitten he had suffered the trauma of being attacked by Smokey, the sometimes loving, sometimes downright churlish Norwegian elkhound/German shepherd, and the result was serious injury to his larynx. His meow was never the same. It became a distinctive, nonmusical “bla-a-a-a-t.” It became part of his personality. He would come each evening to sit with Grandma in her chair, ritually kneading her chest, purring loudly enough to be heard across the room.
Phase Two ended in January 1999 when Grandma left the house, never to return. Her remaining days were spent first in the hospital, then in nursing care. Clyde was 10, and he carried on, but life was lonelier for him now. They saw each other once more, in October 2001. Grandma paid her one and only visit to Silver Lane on the day of her hair appointment in preparation for The Wedding. But I suppose Grandma wasn’t really “present” on Silver Lane that day. Clyde had to be pointed out to her, and the reaction was . . . negligible. He was an artifact in which she had no interest. There was no relationship to rekindle. It was baffling in the moment. But looking back, I see it now as a passage.
Phase Three was a fitting reward for faithful Clyde, his golden era. Although he suffered through his exile in my apartment for more than two years, moving to Silver Lane and having Laurie in his life revived him. He thrived. He embraced his new life, as if this was what he had been waiting for all along. The arrival of Sidney in July 2002 and Monty in May 2003 were only temporary annoyances. It was, “I’m here, I have no fear, get used to it!” Eventually, they all became buddies.
It is fair to say that Clyde savored Phase Three. He had more than five years of “dessert” with which to cap off a life well lived. In recent weeks things didn’t go so well. In recent days he would have episodes of standing still and staring for long periods, as if immobile. His breathing became labored as his thoracic sac filled with fluid. His front legs swelled. The vet tells me he was probably not in pain, as such, but clearly, he was uncomfortable, and it would only get worse until he had to fight for each breath. My preference would have been to bring him home and let him end his days naturally whenever the time came, but he did not deserve to suffer, and we knew that suffering was on its way. At 11:24 this morning we let him go. In 31 days he would have turned 18.
Clyde did exactly what he was sent here to do. He provided entertainment, love, companionship, even occasional consternation. He would introduce himself to each houseguest and immediately settle onto whichever lap suited his taste. Some recent favorites included Aunt Shirley, Bruce Ashton, and Ed Wright. We would find him sometimes in forbidden places–the kitchen counter comes to mind–but mostly he wanted to be near us. He tried to give us far more than he took. This evening his
“Bla-a-a-t” is silent. It will not be heard again.
His spot will now be in the southeast corner of the back yard, just behind Sidney and Monty’s pen. He now has season tickets for all future Frisbee tournaments, with an excellent view. He will always be there, but we will miss him.
As our culture becomes more crowded and coarse, paradoxically, I believe our theology has become more insightful, our understanding of kingdom truth more progressive than our parents and grandparents would have thought possible. My parents knew that earrings were sinful. Dancing was incompatible with true Christian values. And of course, we all understood that our pets would not be in the earth made new. Children who questioned why this had to be so were told coldly that obviously, animals do not have souls–heaven, of course, being the reward for those of us whose souls are saved. And so it remained in my belief system, until one day as a young adult I stumbled onto Colossians 1:19, 20. King James’s translators apparently believed Paul’s Greek was telling us that ” . . . it pleased the Father that in [Christ] should all fulness dwell; And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself . . . whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.” What? Christ has the power to reconcile all things to himself? “Things” from earth?
So a lifetime spent in a family that has always treasured its animals began to blend with what I hope was already a maturing picture of God, and I soon came to believe that whether or not animals have “souls” in the biblical sense is completely irrelevant. Indeed, why would they be in need of having their souls saved when they have not sinned? True, they have never accepted Christ, but then they have never rejected Him either! They are simply trusting, often noble creatures of God. Think of it: if in God’s way of knowing, as only God Himself can know, He understands that it would enhance His children’s enjoyment of eternity to be surrounded by the pets for whom they have cared in this world, do you think for one moment that He could not–would not–arrange that?
So. What is the answer? I don’t know. We don’t need to know. God asks us to simply trust Him–with the huge things; with the petty things; with the in-between things that we can’t chase from our minds between midnight and the dawn. He reminds us that our eyes haven’t seen, our ears haven’t heard what is to be. Not even close. He draws us forward with the promise that however off the mark our preconceived notions may be of what awaits us on the other side of time–whatever we find beyond those twelve massive pearls could never be a disappointment.
Good night, sweet Clyde. See you soon?