I was 18 years old when I separated myself from the Catholic church, the church of my upbringing and my family. In all honesty, I never resonated with Catholicism as it was presented to me. I never understood the concept of God, the Supreme Being, as an angry, vengeful, spiteful entity. Atoning for sins, being born essentially evil, condemning people for coupling and living in love differently from the mainstream, never made any sense to me. This felt like fear-mongering and I, for one, could find no solace in the teachings.
The day I made the decision to leave and never go back was an unusually sweltering day. The Catholic school I attended had monthly masses at the local church, so off we went, scratchy woollen uniforms sticking to us, to sit in a super-heated, poorly ventilated building and have “holy” shoved down our throats. As the mass went on (and on), and the building became hotter and hotter, several students became woozy and started to pass out from being overheated. Our minds were foggy and our egos were as fresh and shy as our teenage years, so our responses to the priest’s call-out were timid. This was not up to the priest’s standards so he went on a tirade telling us we would not leave until we responded appropriately. Over and over and over again he called-out and we responded, louder and louder until we were practically shouting in the name of God, and not in a good way. That was it for me. I had no intentions of ever again being bullied by some out-of-his-mind “representative of God”. There was no peace there for me, so I shot the building the bird as I left and never went back until a few years ago when it was a Christmas present to my mother. I still don’t feel comfortable there.
I walked out of that building and away from established religion, and walked back towards what had always made sense to me–finding the face of God in nature and in animals. I could find peace there and peace was what I needed.
Fast forward almost 10 years and you will find me deep in the pit of the belly of the beast–the dark night of the soul. My grandfather was dying and was moving to and from ICU and the cardiac ward at an astonishing pace. My 3 1/2 year relationship disintegrated before my eyes and out of the blue, leaving me shocked and breathless. My cat was diagnosed with cancer. I was beginning to seriously question my sexuality. I was unemployed and had no idea what path to take. A number of friendships hit the rocks and drowned. And my parents weren’t quite split yet but they were certainly heading there. To say I was a train wreck would be a gross understatement. I was unanchored, unhinged and drifting through fields of pain and confusion. In the midst of all of this, I decided I needed some time and space on my own. I needed to breathe. I needed to see if I could drag my bloody stump of a Self back to some sense of peace, so I rented a family friend’s cottage for a week. I packed my car with every spiritually-based book, every art supply, every tarot card, and every journal I owned and off I went to find my mind and to heal my heart.
What happened instead was that I got sick. Unbelievably sick. Out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a Muskoka chair, staring off into the Bay of Quinte, I felt a scratch in my throat. The scratch progressed quickly to a throat full of razor blades and a deliriously high fever. I was beyond miserable; I was wretched.
While I was on my own, the cottage was closely surrounded by other homes. One of these homes belonged to Russell, an interesting man who always seemed to be picking up and adopting stray animals. The day of the fever, sitting like a lump on the deck, I happened to glance over at Russell’s and saw a tiny orange kitten sitting on his deck. Russell and his wife had gone out so I decided to steal a moment and to say hello to this creature; I needed some animal time. Reaching Russell’s deck, what I saw before me was a perfect mirror for my own Self and it made my stomach drop. This tiny handful of a creature was a wretched soul as well.
There was green goo coming from her nose and her eyes, she was emaciated, and her ears were full of mites. She was sneezing. She was coughing. She was very obviously dying. And my heart hit the dirt when I laid eyes on her. Her saving grace, I thought, was that Russell had found her. Knowing how much he loved his animals, I knew he would take good care of her. I knew he would save her. I spent a bit of time with this beast and then, feeling like crap again, I turned back towards my cottage and walked away.
Following me, tail high and at a good clip, was this wretched little soul. I didn’t want her getting comfortable at my location since it wasn’t my place so I marched her straight back to Russell’s. Again she followed me. And again. Three times I attempted to return her to her home and three times she followed me back to the cottage. By the third time I had had enough. I gave up, sat down on my chair and stared off into space again, only this time I had a dying orange cat on my lap. We made quite the pair.
The weather turns quickly on the Bay of Quinte and it wasn’t long before the wind picked up and the afternoon sky began to grow dark with storm clouds. Russell had yet to return home and this left me in quite the quandary. Not knowing whether the owners of the cottage allowed animals inside I was reluctant to take this creature in with me, but I certainly couldn’t leave her out in a raging storm. When the heavens opened up and still there was no sign of her people, Sick Orange Cat came inside. I laid out for her a bowl of water but no food; again, I didn’t want her to get too comfortable. I knew she would be going home.
At the height of the storm, when the windows of the cottage were shaking from the force of thunder, I heard Russell’s car crunch up his driveway. With a sigh of relief, I packed Sickness in close to my chest and made a run for it across the grass. Soaked, sick and holding this equally soaked and sick bundle, I knocked on Russell’s door and met them with, “Here’s your cat.” Except, it turns out, she wasn’t theirs. She was from a barn up the road, a barn I had seen before, packed with pathetic, uncared for, disease-ridden cats. The sight of them had always broken my heart. This little stray had shown up on Russell’s porch and out of the goodness of their hearts, they had fed her and had intended on sending her back up the road. Which is what they did. Taking her from me, they drove her to the barn, and to certain death.
I can’t say I understand what happened next. Free from the waif cat, I was in the shower hoping to steam the sickness out of me when I was suddenly rocked by violent waves of the most hideous sounding, gut-wrenching sobs. They took me over and brought me to my knees. Naked, vulnerable and kneeling on the bottom of the bathtub, with snot running from my nose and hot water streaming over my skin, I begged God, the entity I had not named in nearly a decade, to bring her back to me. “Please, God,” I cried, “bring her back and I promise you I will do everything I can, I will use every last red cent I have (and I didn’t have many) to either give her a good life or a good death. Please. Please bring her back to me.”
No more than a half hour after the shower collapse, I was sitting in my chair, alone and terrified as the storm outside intensified. It was black as pitch with the wind heaving and beating up against the cottage walls. In the midst of all this mayhem, I thought I heard a different sound outside the patio door. I thought I had heard the tiny meow of a cat. I also thought the fever had made me nuts. How does one hear a tiny kitten meow when Nature is waging war outside? I have no idea, but I heard it again and proceeded to walk towards the door. There she was, Sick Orange Cat, staring at me through the glass, soaked to the bone having run down a country road in the dead of night, during a psychotic thunderstorm, and back to me.
I kept the promise I made to God that day. For the next 16 years I did everything I could to give this little creature the best possible life, and in the end, I almost used every last red cent I had to give her a good death. No words can ever explain the connection I had to that cat. She was more than a cat, more than a companion, more than an animal–she was my pathway back to God and she showed me, without a doubt, that “someone” is always listening and loves me enough to respond.
When I met God, She was wearing a red fur coat, and my life has never been the same.
I miss you, Aggs. Be at peace.
All my love,