A neighborhood cat adopted our yard last week. We have a small garden fountain and he joined the squirrels and birds who drink from it on a regular basis throughout the season. He didn’t look too healthy, he was skinny and . . .reliant. I had my thoughts, which I did not share with the grandchildren, that he had picked our yard for his hospice—a comfortable place to be during his last days. He’s an orange tabby. Green eyes. Terribly thin.

It almost hurt to look at him.

After sitting by the fountain for most of the afternoon, I suffered my spouse’s scorn, and put out a small plate of cat kibble. To the children’s surprise he wasn’t much interested. They brought the dish back in and I added some milk to the dry kibble and popped it in the microwave for a few seconds. Warm milk and softened food, and our little visitor was eating. Some, but not all. And then he didn’t leave.

He’s not the only stray cat in our neighborhood. So over the next few days we have had opportunity to talk with the children about pet ownership and the responsibility we take on when we take a companion pet into the family. We talked about how it is really unfair to a cat or dog or whatever—an animal that has been meant and trained to be our companion—to take away our care and turn it out to live on it’s own, or care so little about it, that the pet has to try and live in a way it was never intended. These abandoned pets, these former companions, often don’t have the skills they need to find food, stay warm, or be safe. They may ‘survive’ for a while, but they seldom thrive.

Our visitor didn’t ever get too far from the fountain. Only one evening over the past few says did the kids not find him somewhere in the garden. Most days he took over the black Welcome mat at the back door, sunning himself most of the morning. We had fewer squirrels and birds in the yard last week. They evidently found a different place to get a drink instead of take a chance on the cat. I don’t think he had the interest the give chase, but they didn’t need to know that.

I threw an old towel down under the bush that became his favorite napping spot. He took a lot of naps, the kids tell me.

This morning the kids had been up, and after feeding our indoor cats, a bowel of milk and kibble was prepared for the visitor. When I came down after my shower, there they stood; the granddaughter even had her toddler-brother in her arms—I think more for the comfort than anything else. “Grandpa, Sandy didn’t move this morning.”

Yeah, we named him.

I knew this day was coming. I went outside and donned my leather garden gloves. There were three small faces at the back window. Their Mom and Grandma were there too. Living in the City we’re pretty ruthless when it comes to disposal of dead squirrels and birds in the yard (a couple of dumb birds tend to drown in the fountain each season). But the cat, Sandy, I knew would be different for them.

I pulled a few branches aside, “See,” I hear over my shoulder. “I tried to see if he was breathing (hands going up and down to make his point), but he’s not.” I hadn’t heard the grandson come out but I shooed him back in the house. Our visitor clearly died in his sleep. I am sure not too many strays get to do that, under a favored bush, in the yard of a family who showed him some kindness. I gently removed the stiff form from our garden and put him in the bin for the City to take care of.

After I returned from the grim task of such an undignified disposal, I put away the gloves and went into the house. The granddaughter needed a hug; tears glistened in her eyes. As I held her tight for a moment, we consoled each other that while death comes to all our pets eventually, we thank God that he provides us with such wonderful companions. And tonight in our devotions we’ll say a prayer of thanks to God for Mona our Great Pyrenees, for Klondike and Merci the cats in our home, and for Bailey and Denali, Pepper and Raven, and the other several pets who have occupied our home and our hearts over the years.

There are all kinds of lessons we teach our children along the way. Some of most important lessons are unplanned. This one walked in on four paws and gave us opportunity to show kindness and care. And taught us a lesson on how to say good-bye.

The End of the World as We Know It — or maybe not?

In Brief

The apocalypse scheduled for December 21, 2012 has been postponed.

Mayan Long-count Calendar

There is a great section in Lutheranism 101 called “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” in which the speculations about how the world will end is contrasted against Scripture’s account of what will occur when Christ returns on the Last Day. One of the interesting features peppered throughout the book appears beginning on page 55: Great Predictions of the End of the World As We Know It. One of the earliest predictions noted is that from AD 992 when the convergence of Good Friday and the Feast of the Annunciation that year was believed to be the harbinger of the end times; and the last is that of scheduled for December 21, 2012 according to the Mayan calendar.

Today, Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience.com reports that 2012 apocalypse scheduled for December 21, 2012 has been postponed. It would seem that the dates the Mayan “Long Count” calendar may have been incorrectly converted and could be off by as much as 50 to 100 years.

The author in Lutheranism 101 writes:

The Book of Hebrews says that now we are in the last days (Hebrews 1:2). The last days began when the God sent His Son to be born as the God-man Jesus. And the Son made it clear to us that no one, absolutely no one (not even the angels!), knows the date of the very last day. The day, the hour, that last minute—only the Father knows when that will be (Matthew 24:36). Be suspicious of anyone who tries to pinpoint an exact date for Jesus’ return. It has always been a waste of time trying to “decode” alleged messages hidden in Scripture that supposedly reveal the date of Christ’s return.

You can read the report from LiveScience.com here, among other places.

Impudently Green

There it was so impudently green among the dreary remains of winter. Just four blades, but upright and broad they made their entrance into the ersatz summer day of late February. What combination of gene and season and canine fertilizer came together to bring this grassy presence to leaf is unknown and likely unknowable. Yet the unknowable had become a compelling presence and captured my attention as I sat with my morning cup on the back steps.

Morning Joe

With disheveled head and slippered feet I had settled in to sip and contemplate the array of needs and tasks that would entail enticing my small estate from its winter slumber. And while these important matters waited my reflection, I could not widen my gaze from this proud grass. The wood that failed under the assault of winter and needs to be restacked mattered not to this green upstart. The cache of fall leaves needing a rake and the bushes that needed a prune fazed it not one little bit. As the blades shivered in the breeze on this irrepressible morning they did not regard the akimbo brick border or the sun-silvered deck as work of any consequence. The inevitable amendment of soil and planting of flowers and vegetables were without thought or regard by this mistimed plant.

Pulling on my coffee I thought of the lives that had passed on such a patch of grass as this. The backyard picnics and the gathering of friends around a carry-in meal; the boys horsing around at tag football over there and the adults throwing horseshoes in the back; the pie and salads laid out down the center of flannel-backed-cloth covered tables and everything from wieners and hamburgers to ribs and steaks blackening to a delicious finish on the grill.

I recalled a toddler, just, who could be tended and restrained by grass. With the surface of the lawn too yielding to this little one’s tentative steps to venture to walk upon it and its texture too unnerving to bare hands and legs to crawl over it, his mother could set him upon a blanket in the midst of the lawn, tend her flower beds, and nary have a thought that he wouldn’t be there when she again looked.

I ached as I remembered how forgetting to spread the requisite chemicals one spring resulted in a carpet of summer dandelions. And a little girl with her sun-lightened hair carefully sitting in their midst picking mommy and daddy bouquet after bouquet of sunshine and smiles. I never have looked at a dandelion again without marveling at the magic of a little dandelion pollen under a little girl’s chin – “butter”!

The boy is off at college and the girl is raising memories of her own, and so this lawn belongs more to a dog’s game of catch than to child’s summer tent. As I observed the robin entering the yard in search of a meal I resolved to bring my reverie to a close. With the last swallow of cooling coffee I hoisted myself off the step to begin the day. For if the grass is beginning to green there are things that need to be done. After all, there is no little girl to pick golden heads this year.