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The Redemptive Paw — Part One
By Melissa Roberts

Felix, my beloved cat, chose me when I was in college, over ten years ago. I came home for Christmas break my senior year, and there she was.

Back then, Felix had no name. A street kitty, cat of her wits, she was a stray, and an unwanted stray at that. She chased away the family’s other cats from the bowl of food Mum put out daily. She resisted extensive coaxing, and her green eyes could stare right through you with a disconcerting “I see you.” I’d never lost a staring contest to a cat before Felix. Now that my family had found homes for the gray and white kittens she’d deposited under our porch the previous summer, they wanted her gone.

We, the Roberts of Grand Avenue, Parsons, Kansas like to walk, a rare pastime in small-town USA where most people will drive a block for milk, cigarettes, or a movie. Everywhere we walked, the cat to be known as Felix followed, a half block behind. She stopped when we stopped, and she watched always.

Her persistence touched me- was she terrified her food would disappear with us, was she suspicious we might leave her, or was she keeping a predatory green eye on her ticket to happiness? Her unblinking gaze never wavered, her true motives a mystery.

At the end of one walk, my sister ranted that Felix, trotting in the middle of the sidewalk two houses back, must go. Out of the blue, I spoke the words that changed Felix’s life. “No, her name is Felix.” Why I chose Felix, I don’t quite know.  But then again, the name didn’t matter. I hadn’t chosen her. She’d already chosen me.

My mother and sisters moaned. Once an outdoor stray had a name, the cat was ours. The family already had three cats. Now, they had four. Felix had a home.

In the next five years, I was all over the place- Lawrence, Kansas for grad school, Alexandria, Virginia for seminary, and Seattle, Washington for chaplaincy training. Felix remained in Parsons, Kansas at Mom and Dad’s. Between my various schools and jobs, Felix was there. She slept on my bed when I visited. She followed me around the house and yard and stared at me when I drove away. She waited, ever so patiently, for me to come home. I didn’t always think of her, but nights after I had visited I could almost feel her sleeping on my bed, though she was a half-continent away.

One by one, our other cats died off. By 2004, Felix was the only cat. She achieved the coveted status of indoor kitty, with litter box and all, as Mum now lived alone. My sisters and I were away at school, and Dad was mobilized with the Army. Mum cherished Felix, and Felix cherished Mum.

Felix sat on Mum or by Mum when she meditated. At first, Mum pushed her away, but then she realized that Felix would quietly meditate with her for ten minutes, a half hour, an hour or more, never stirring and never purring.

Felix watched Mum make dinner. Felix supervised, snoozing, while Mum read, and Felix slept on Mum’s bed at night, even though Mum’s allergic to cats.  One night, when Mum was sad and lonely, missing the rest of us in the family’s two story Victorian house filled with memories, Felix offered Mum the grace of the redemptive paw.

Mum claimed that she was crying in bed, overcome with loneliness. Felix reached out her front left paw and touched Mum ever so gently on the arm. Felix kept the paw there, a silent reminder that Mum was not alone. Mum started calling Felix the healing kitty.

Several years later, I, too, experienced the redemptive paw for myself. In 2006, I took a position as a full-time hospital chaplain in St. Louis, Missouri. Despite my family’s objections, I moved the elderly Felix with me and made her a big city apartment kitty. Fresh from seminary, I was eager to serve and confident that I could comfort, bless, and heal with God’s help.

The following two years were a nightmare. No amount of education could have prepared me for the grief and pain of being with the dying and their loved ones day after day after day with no family support. Alone in a city I didn’t know on a limited income, I struggled not to burden the few friends I had made and my colleagues with my intense feelings of grief and loneliness. At night, visions of other families’ pain and their loved ones’ cold bodies flashed before my eyes.

Some nights, I lay awake praying to cry, but out of tears. On one such night, after baptizing a dead infant that day, I had a feeling someone was watching me. A pair of green eyes stared at me, unwavering. I stared back. Felix looked away and lay down beside me, paws neatly tucked under her body. I closed my eyes, blinking back cleansing tears. Then I felt it. A dainty white paw tapped my bare arm.

In that moment, I felt such love and warmth, as though nothing existed but this moment of connection. With that simple touch, all my pain and fear evaporated. I could almost hear Felix saying, “It’s alright. I’m here. I love you.”

Felix kept her paw on my arm until I fell asleep, redeemed from my suffering in the paws of my cat.

At first, I wondered why Felix reached out to me that night.  Did she know what it’s like to be lonely and afraid? Did she yearn to heal me the way I’d healed her, giving me the home and love I’d given her in my time of need?  As Felix shared the redemptive paw again and again in the midst of my grieving and pain during my work as a hospital chaplain, I had no doubt- my cat’s touch blessed me and left me forever changed.

I first shared the story of Felix’ redemptive paw with my chaplaincy department shortly after it happened. My dear colleague and friend Sarah coined the phrase, “the redemptive paw” after hearing the story. “Listen to your cat,” Sarah said, “she has wisdom for you.”

Felix has helped me see that there’s more to life than my own reality. Miracles, wondrous and impossible to some, are simply moments of connection with the mystery of life. I am blessed that my cat helped me to see that healing is as simple as letting go and resting in the hope that I am only as alone as I choose to be.

Right now Felix is climbing on my computer desk and demanding my attention. I stop. She pauses by the window, tucks her tail around her body, and stares out the window. I stare too. The December day looks grey and bleak. But Felix and I both know the sun’s warmth, and we live in hope of warmer days and happier lives.

.

Melissa Roberts Bio:

Melissa Roberts is a freelance writer who lives in Parsons, KS. She enjoys sharing stories, cooking, meditating, the beauty in life and people, time with boyfriend Mark and, of course, the presence of the elderly feline Felix. Melissa is a Feature Writer for Suite101.com, an online magazine, and enjoys sharing articles on religion, history, cooking, travel, and spiritual growth there.  Here is a  link to her website.

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COMMENT (1) | animal companion, animal wisdom
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Comments

One Response to “The Redemptive Paw — Part One”

  1. Carol Ayer
    January 31st, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

    What a lovely and wise cat! Enjoyed this very much. Thanks for sharing.

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