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Buckeye Jones

Back from the Dead

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Just after Thanksgiving, the more adventurous of our two cats disappeared. We live on a hill surrounded by woods in an urban neighborhood of Cincinnati, and after checking for the cat at the kitchen door for several evenings, we assumed that coyotes or stray dogs had got him. Several years ago, we'd lost a cat to the neighbor's dogs, and thought a similar thing had happened. This time, though, we had kids, and they wanted us to keep an eye out for Pepper. "I think he's hunting," the three year old said. So we put up signs, and I stopped by the local shelter a couple of times to check in.

About a week after he went missing, I saw pawprints in the light dusting of snow we'd received, and I followed them into the woods on the hillsides around us. Two hours later, I came back up to the house, scratched by the overgown honeysuckle and briars and cold from the winter's air. No sign of the cat, but plenty of dog or coyote tracks. My wife and I stopped discussing the cat around the kids and were getting used to being a single cat household. The other cat, Macy, actually became more social and interactive without Pepper around. We liked not being woken up at 5 am by a yowling cat demanding to be let outside. The sinks were cleaner, and the furniture looked healthier with the break from his scratching.

The late autumn rains disentegrated my signs. By Christmas week, I hadn't been to the shelter in two weeks. New Years would make three. Late Tuesday evening, as I was cleaning up the den and getting ready to watch a gut-wrenching Fiesta Bowl, I walked into our living room to return a book to its case. To the immediate right of the bookcase is a large diamond paned window and as I put my book back, I heard a loud and insistent meow.

Looking out into the winter gloam I saw Pepper in my front yard. He meowed again and darted to the front porch.

"Oh my goodness!" exclaimed I as I opened the front door. In ran the cat, back from the dead.

He'd lost about 60% of his body weight (from twelve to five pounds) but other than that looked himself. No visible wounds or missing parts. And his sense of memory still worked. He ran right for the food bowl. My mother in law, who speaks English like the fifty nine year old immigrant she is, said, "O mi goodness". The kids squealed, and squealed and squealed. They patted him, and whacked him in love. Eric, the youngest, tried to lay on him as if he were his favorite pillow.

Pepper the cat, who we'd given up on, was home. We could not believe it. Where had he been? Was he carried off in some neighbor's car only to make his long trek back home? Had he gotten stuck in one of the empty houses in the neighborhood subsisting on mice and cockroaches? We have no ideas, no leads. We just have the cat.

Now that its been a couple of days, I'm struck by the theological parallels as I reflect on the cat's return. Was Lazarus famished when he rose from the dead? Did his loved ones crowd him and prevent him from resting? What do we do with resurrection? What did Jesus' disciples do? Still some doubted, the Evangelist records. No kidding, I think, as I rest my hand under the cat's now prominent jaw, marvelling at my little purring Lazarus.

How often is our resurrected Savior taken for granted, because its a premise that's been beaten into our heads for millenia? The shock of it is gone, its queer surprise and upsetting of the order of things is missing. It screws up our psychology, makes mockery of our grieving process--hey, I was just getting to "acceptance", okay? And it torments us, just a little. I have lost him once, dear God, please don't let me lose him again.

Edited by Buckeye Jones

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