Sometimes a careful reader cannot make it past your Dedication Page without finding a point to ponder. I dedicated my first novel, Standing On A Whale, to my family, my students, my grandson, and to “Bones—the cat that taught me more in three days than I have managed to learn in a lifetime.”
One of my readers wanted to know what on earth Bones did “to me/with me/for me within a three day span to stir up my education beyond all of my previous decades of life-lessons.” He said, “I simply must unearth this untold mystery. I am like Poirot; my little gray cells are spinning and reeling in contemplation of this hidden nugget.”
For those of you who follow me, this reader was TJ. I loved TJ’s five-page letter. I knew when I read it that I would be using it in my blog. Here was the response I wrote to him.
Bones was a random cat that entered my world one uncommonly cold November evening. The cat appeared in my back yard out of nowhere. That was the most messed up cat I had ever seen. Every rib was exposed, an eye was missing, it had open wounds all over its body and it walked crooked. I didn’t know if it was a ‘he’ cat or a ‘she’ cat because I didn’t dare check, but let’s go with a ‘he’ cat.
My husband and I tried to “shoo” him away because he looked disease-ridden and dangerous and we had a young child in the house with serious allergies. God only knew if he had rabies or scabies. But the cat didn’t go away at our “shoo.” He walked right up to us and nuzzled up against my leg. Out of fear of contagion, I pulled away indifferently and ran into the house.
For the rest of the evening my lack of compassion troubled me. Not even Chris Matthews could pull me away from my disgust for myself. I stared at that cat from the kitchen window for long periods of time. I had pets of my own that I loved dearly and wondered what in the hell was wrong with me. The cat was suffering. Why couldn’t I engage?
My husband suggested we get a box out of the garage to shelter the cat from the cold. He put a few old towels and some food in the box; I simply stood there, a witness to his heroic efforts. My biggest contribution was turning the back porch light on so the cat wouldn’t be in the dark.
I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I kept getting up and checking on the cat through the kitchen window. There he stood—in the box, in the light, staring at me with those pathetic soulful eyes. I wondered why he was still standing and then I realized he was probably in too much pain to lie down.
The next morning we tried to feed him but he was too weak to eat. We figured he was going to die any moment, but he didn’t die. He lingered for two long days. By the morning of the second day I was able to touch him with my hand. The feel of his hard body against my hand stabbed at my heart and I started to cry hysterically. I had to go to work that day. By the time I got home the cat had died. A piece of me died that day, too. What had I done to help him—turn on the lights?
To justify my lack of compassion, I gave the cat a name. I called him Bones. We had the neighbor boy bury him in our back yard and I erected a simple flower arrangement over his grave. I cried on and off for the next two weeks. I saw Bones’ face everywhere I went.
It took weeks to get over the ordeal, but as time passed, I realized that Bones had come into my life to crack my shell of indifference to the suffering. Bones taught me that no matter what physical form we arrive in, we have something to teach. I learned a lot about myself from Bones. The experience was illuminating, so when I published my novel I made sure that Bones was added to my Dedication Page. He was, after all, one of my greatest teachers and deserved an Honorable Mention. Little did I know that the Mention would cause such a stir!