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Starting Point

The little barn cat


I have been watching this white cat for several months behind our barn. When I am wrapping pots and have the large door open, I can see her against the wall of the rear barn, sunning herself, lying against the brick wall. She arrived from somewhere early in the summer and seemed not to fit in with the other three cats. I guess cats are very territorial, and that explains her being shunned. But she has been there every day.

I walked over to her on several occasions, but she would run away into the woods or dash beneath the broken wall of the barn. She does go into the rear barn to take food from the other cats’ dishes, which may have caused a problem because she has a bad cut on her forehead. She cannot lick the spot, and I have seen her lick her paw and then rub her paw against her head.

Yesterday morning was cool. There was actually a chill in the air, and so I went to the rear of the back barn, where I read and write in the cooler months. There was my chair and cinder block, on which I put my writing stuff and a cup of coffee.

I was reading John Dunne’s new book, Reading the Gospel. It is a dreamy sort of read. His words touch a lot of senses, open many avenues of memory and longing.

I heard a meow.

I looked around and could not see her, but I knew it was that little white cat.

Then she raised herself from beneath an old cardboard box, looked at me, and meowed again. I smiled. Maybe I should have meowed.

She walked slowly toward me, and came very close to my chair and stopped and sat. She has beautiful blue eyes. She looked and looked at me, and I sat very still for I did not want to alarm her. Then she moved toward me and started rubbing her head against my shoe. She did that over and over, and then rubbed her back against my leg.

Pretty heavy duty, this cat-human courtship.

Then she stepped back a bit, took aim and leapt into my lap. She plopped right on the book. There we sat until I had to get up and go to work. I petted her all the while and she seemed to like that. The cut on her head is sore looking, so I did not want to touch that and cause her pain.

Eventually, I nudged her a bit and she bounded off my lap, turned and looked at me and meowed again. I softly told her I had to go and walked back to the bonsai barn. She went to her place against the wall and watched me as I walked away.

I went back this morning, and ended up with her in my lap again. I thought Dunne would not mind his already warm words being warmed even more by the little white cat.

I was reading to fill some longing, and a cat spotted me and did what she needed to do to fill a little hole in her heart, too.

Life can be a lonesome place. Life can be a sad place. I do not think we ever do fill that hole in us, that aching longing for what -- love? God? happiness? We find some warmth in words, in memories, or, in the case of my new friend, in a lap and against an old but apparently friendly looking shoe.

Someone recently wrote me a letter about a hole in her heart. She wrote in response to something I had written, something about longing and God, and missing something I can never seem to capture long enough to keep. Then the cat came to mind. I remembered how her lonesome meow came to my heart. I listened, waited, and she found a morning friend.

Someday, I will listen, and wait, and I know that God will come. I hope I have the honesty to wait, the patience to listen and the goodness I will need to welcome God and ask that God stay.

I think God is quite near, in many living things, in you and in me, in all that is lonely and in need of a place to rest. There are small lessons that teach this, in things that happen every day.

I did not get very far in my reading. But that does not matter. The good book that is life taught me something, with a surprise, a rub and a leap.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net

National Catholic Reporter, October 6, 2000