RIP, Sweet Tamino (Mar 30, 1999 – Mar 24, 2016)

He was the cat I anticipated all my life before him. He was the cat by which all future cats will be measured. He was loving, intelligent, funny, aggravating. He was my Tamino.

Growing up, we had a series of cats around. They’d show up, dropped off at the nearby barn by seasonal visitors who thought all barns needed more cats, and that all barn cats led healthy, happy lives. Or friends had kittens, and somehow one found its way to us. Or…I don’t know. Mom had a weakness for orphans and kittens, so there were generally up to a half dozen around at any one time.

But I loved the idea of having a Siamese. Their exotic good looks. Their intelligence. Their loyalty. I’d never met one, but I knew I wanted one someday.

Fast forwarding to adulthood, I spent four years in the Air Force, living in the barracks, where the only pets we could have were fish or turtles. For someone used to having dogs and cats around, that was rough. When I got out, I waited all of about two weeks before starting to look for a Siamese. I was going to take it slow. I was going to find just the right breeder, get myself onto a wait list. I wanted a female, I decided. A beautiful little girl. I dreamed of names. I poked around on the Internet, what there was of it back then. I made some calls.

The first place I went to with Mom was in Marshfield, VT: a woman who mostly bred and trained Schutzhund German Shepherds, but also had a few Siamese litters a year. Supposedly we were just going to visit and check out the grounds and meet some of her adults. She’d had a litter not long ago, but they were all spoken for. So…we went. And when we got there, she placed a ten week old kitten in my arms for me to see. A boy. He wasn’t a very cute kitten, honestly. He looked a bit like a white rat with a giant brown Jimmy Durante nose. His eyes were not the bluest of blue. He meowed and clung to me, and I vaguely heard her say something about another buyer backing out, so if I was interested, or she could reserve another kitten from the next litter.

Well. I was doomed.

We brought him home. I named him Tamino after the prince in Mozart’s Magic Flute and called him Tam for short. He hid under the bed for several days and barely let me touch him. And then…he did. And didn’t want me to ever set him down again.

We both barely survived his first year. I had no idea, really, what Siamese were like in person. For one thing, he was a chatterbox. In general, when other cats meowed at me, I knew they wanted something: food, water, a check on the litterbox. They didn’t just casually interact via vocalization. I kept saying, “What do you WANT, cat?”

He also had SO MUCH ENERGY and curiosity, which he didn’t totally expend without me being a part of it. He wanted to play, but I was supposed to be involved. Always. Even at three in the morning. This was about when he taught himself to play fetch–or taught me, I’m not quite sure. I’d be typing away on the computer, and he’d bring his beloved tattered frog and drop it on the keyboard. When I tossed it aside, he retrieved it and dumped it on the keyboard again, until I stopped and played a good solid game of fetch.

He had to get to the highest point of every room, and woe to any fragile item that got in the way. In fact, watching things fall was pretty fun, especially if you could push them down for dogs to grab.

He learned to pull drawers open to retrieve noisy toys I’d hidden out of sheer exhaustion. I remember one time hiding his ball-and-trough toy in the freezer, because that was the only place he couldn’t get to it. Top of the refrigerator? No problem–he could leap clear from the floor and pull himself up there. Drawers? Oh, a fun challenge!

He was a crazy monkey cat, but he was also so very loving. All laps were for sitting in. He slept on the bed, sometimes snuggled under the blankets with his head on the pillow. When I was down, he’d headbutt me under the chin. He was always there. Even the very last night of his life when he could barely walk, he followed me from the living room to the bedroom and slept on the bed, and then crawled back out to the living room when I got up. He was my constant companion his entire life, and now I keep looking for a shadow cat who isn’t there. I suppose I’ll be doing that for a long time to come.

He made me laugh, made me yell, made my life so much richer than I could ever have imagined.

I said goodbye to him on Thursday, 3/24/16, less than a week before his 17th birthday on the 30th.

There is a hole in my heart so big I hardly know how to keep living.




Guercino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Return of the Prodigal Son
On the surface, the story of the prodigal son is one of the most comforting Gospel readings: God portrayed as a gentle and loving father, waiting with open arms to welcome us home, no matter what we’ve done or how far we have strayed. So why do I find it such a hard reading to accept?

All too frequently, I identify with the oldest son, not in that I resent a lack of goat roasting parties, but in my rigid mindset toward guilt and reparation, my struggle with the concept of unbounded love and mercy. How is it logical or just to forgive and reward the repentant sinner?

I speak primarily about how I analyze my own guilt. I stand as the oldest son, and I sneer at myself, the prodigal. Ask for forgiveness, and move on? How is that fair? I’ve done wrong. I know I’ve done wrong. I sometimes see life as a ledger, and I’m so far in the red, there’s no digging out. No hope.

This is part of why I have trouble approaching the sacrament of reconciliation. On top of having to say I did the same stupid embarrassing things again and again and again, on some level, it feels like a sham, a trick. It can’t really be that easy, can it? I just come back, sincerely say I’m sorry, and bam, I’m not only forgiven but welcomed with abundant graces?

This Gospel teaches us that yes, it is that simple. That beautiful. That…unfair. The truth is that God isn’t fair. If we all got what we deserved, we’d all get damnation.

Instead, God is merciful. Infinitely so. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around. It isn’t clean and tidy, it isn’t this plus this equals that. It doesn’t make sense.

And so, a lot of the time I am the prodigal son, but I get stuck at the point in the story where I’ve squandered my inheritance and am starving in a pigsty, miserable, afraid to go home. I tell myself I’m not worthy of even being where I am. I wallow in my shame, while my Father mourns. I don’t even give him the the opportunity to embrace and console me.

That’s pride. That’s foolishness. Do I think I can sin so big, God doesn’t have the capacity to wash it away?

It’s time–it’s always time–to dry my tears and go home.


LUKE 15:11-32
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”