March is the consummate in-between month.
Lion and lamb. Winter and spring.
Death and life.
At Tabby’s Place this middlemarch, we are longingly aware that we’re in between the “already” and the “not yet.”
Betwixt and between, we can’t un-see the hope that’s started rolling like a mighty tide.
Neither can we deny the ache that still erodes our edges when we least expect it.
I am talking about neither politics (dies irae, Super Tuesday 2) nor weather. I am, of course, talking about cats.
Frankly, at that point, things looked a great deal better for Oscar than Chester. People Who Know About Such Things were cautioning that Chester might be dealing in weeks, perhaps days.
Oscar, though? Oscar was expected to launch back into lion-life. Anemia was a pain in the tuckus; Dr. Fantastic’s office was no country for old men. But this was a blip on the screen, and blips get obliterated, and then life goes on, and a thousand crocuses bloom, and, and —
— and then sometimes it all goes wrong.
Oscar and Chester both came home from Dr. Fantastic’s. Oscar did beautifully; Chester slogged through snot. Oscar settled in nicely; Chester seemed weary, depressed, winter-worn.
So how is it that Oscar is the one no longer with us, while Chester fights another day?
It’s all so recent and raw that I’ll do my best with details. A few days after the boys came home, Oscar was again knocked flat by anemia.
We rushed him back to the specialty hospital, where Dr. Fantastic hit a giant, growling iceberg: Oscar had a gastrointestinal perforation.
The good news? Bleeder located.
The bad news? Emergency surgery was in order.
This would be a risky procedure at best. But, with Oscar’s underlying heart disease, it was a bare-fisted fight with a lion.
We’re soldiers for life here, and so we went ahead.
And life struck a victory: Oscar’s surgery went smoothly, and he began to recover with supercat speed. There’s the “already” for you: we already live in a world where such heroics are possible. Ours is, even now, a world of hope, of life, of sweet strength on surprising stems.
And then, at four in the morning, the petals all fell off.
All at once, Oscar’s heart changed its mind. The gentle old cat slipped into cardiac failure just when recovery seemed secure. The best specialists were unable to save him. Oscar was gone.
There’s your “not yet.” We are not yet in the world where death has been destroyed, once, for all, forever.
We were collectively wobbly and numb that morning. Oscar came back to us in the wrong kind of carrier, the cardboard kind shaped like a casket. We knew, as we said goodbye, that there were no more goodbyes to say on this earth. He was already gone.
Oscar’s thin tabby form had barely sighed its last when we started talking of his destination.
“There’s no heart disease in heaven.”
“We will see you again, baby boy.”
“Say hi to our friends up there.”
We each wrap different words around it: the Rainbow Bridge. The Kingdom of God. Heaven. But, whatever our idioms, we refused to believe that Oscar’s story ended here.
Nor does he walk alone beyond the veil. Just before Oscar came to Tabby’s Place, his doting human had passed away. Surely she hadn’t expected to see him again so soon…but could there be any doubt that they were together now? Can you imagine the glory of their reunion?
I don’t mean to get into debates about the afterlife here. But I will humbly venture that one of the strongest arguments in its favor is the fact that every fiber of our being yearns for it. Talk of deathless life turns on all of our lights, across space and time and training and temperament. In the stories we tell and the hopes we hide or hail, it is inescapably right.
There’s a reason (and there are others, and if you’re really interested we can talk about them) why the arc of every story from Snow White to Star Wars bends towards the ultimate healing of all things.
All shall be well. There is something under our skins, under even our souls, that knows this is true. We don’t see it with our eyes, not yet…but blessed are those who have believed without seeing.
Already, we see tiny flags waving, a thousand irises announcing The Great Healing yet to come.
Already, Chester is eating again, purring again in precious fits and starts. We know he’s on borrowed time, yes; we know that life, on this earth, is terminal for all of us.
But we know, in our deepest places, that it won’t always be that way.
So sit with us in the uncomfortable, miraculous season between the “already” and the “not yet.” Keep your eyes open. Life and spring are already staking their claims.
Until we meet again, sweet Oscar.
Photos, from top to bottom, courtesy of John M., Lisa R., AT and Rob S.