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Starting Point

A kitten and a flurry of fallouts


Radar arrived some time during the night when I was in the monastery. He was waiting outside the kitchen door. He was emaciated, and vermin crawled over his body. His bones showed through his rib cage. He was incapable of speech but was able to emit sounds of hunger and loneliness.

The Rule of Benedict tells monks to welcome all strangers as if welcoming Christ himself. And so the monk who found him lifted him and carried him down to the bonsai barn for a good breakfast, a bath and a warm bed.

And so we had a new kitten. We named him Radar since his ears were large. They were probably of normal size but since the rest of his body was so scrawny, his ears looked oversized as if the little creature was especially equipped to monitor the heavens for signs of extraterrestrial feline activity.

We guessed that he was about 10 weeks old. The other cats acted in a very Christian way and made room for him in their lives. He was covered with fleas, but Karen and Carol sprayed him with some Hartz Mountain stuff and he did not mind that. The fleas obviously did and fell off his body. Tough job, getting all the fleas off. They took delight in every part of his body.

We set a bowl of food before him and he literally dove into it. Later that day, I walked down to the bonsai store to see how he was doing. He was lounging near the door and was the highlight of the day for everyone who came through. While I was there, two little kids came with their mother and grandmother. The kids’ names were Jessica and Jacob. They fell in love with Radar and wanted to take him home. Their mother grimaced and said no since they had just moved into a new house and it was not the right time for a kitten. Jessica started to bawl. Jacob looked at her and scowled. The grandmother said that she wanted the kitten. Radar was still going about his business, rolling on the cement floor trying to rid himself of whatever fleas were still on him.

Jessica was persistent through her tears. “Paaaaallllleeeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzze can I have him?” But her mother stood her ground. The grandmother insisted that hers would be a better home, provided her husband was dealt with. She would not tell him, she said. “I’ll just take that poor little thing home with me in a box and it will melt that fool’s heart. I’ll tell him I’m bringing home a radar ... tell him it’s a little machine.”

Jessica was by now de-teared. Just a few sniffles now and then and a look of disgust aimed in the general direction of her brother and grandmother.

Radar was obliviously happy. He was fed, cuddled, cherished, fluffed and divested of his fleas.

The family left. The grandmother promised that she would come back later and pick up Radar and take him home to Alabama.

I cannot imagine what the ride in their car must have been like. Seething anger, frustrated attempts at peacemaking, promises of amends, the whole nine yards to make things go right again. And I am sure that with a few miles, things settled.

I don’t know if Radar is still there.

But I do know how delicate life is and how hard it is to keep an even keel, a nice balance, an even distribution of kindness, peace, love, tranquility. From the fallout of the fleas to the falling of tears and the fragmenting of family harmony, I am tempted to blame it all on what the cat dragged in to human affairs. But maybe it is truer to say that life is a constant flurry of fallouts.

And the best we can do is keep a big heart and pick up the pieces -- and an occasional stray kitten with big ears.

Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives and writes in Covington, La.

National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2003