Recently I returned home to visit my family in Birmingham, AL. I always love to be at my parent’s home – I’m sure a lot of people feel this way. It is simply the familiarity of it all: The order of each room, the smell of “mama food” and even the feeling of the pillow under my head and the cool sheets against my skin as I drift to sleep. My mom and I are 4 days apart with our birthdays, and this year I was able to be there to celebrate together. It was especially nice because this year was the big FIFTY for me! I have to say here, that leading up to it and throughout that day, I couldn’t help but feel like something was wrong – because, (I thought), “I don’t feel 50 AND to my recollection, the people I remember seeing turn 50 just seemed so…old.” To make it even odder, my mom, dad and big sister — ALL call me “the baby”. So the whole time, I “feel” like the baby…yet I’m acutely aware that in fact…I’m freakin’ FIFTY! But I digress…So what about the cat outside the window – right?
Well, my parents LOVE animals, and I don’t just mean the “domesticated” kind. They have various bird feeders for different types of birds; feed an entire family of raccoons; they have put out salt blocks for the deer; and have even kept up with certain chipmunks and squirrels. Another thing they have always done is take care of neighbor’s pets as well as the lost and/or wild “someday” pets. What do I mean by someday pets? Well, these would be lost and sometimes wild pets. Decades ago, there was a kitten that came to their home, (during a difficult time for them, when I was first hospitalized for psychiatric/addiction issues), which they had all felt was a sort of “God wink” when he arrived. They took the kitten in and named him Muffin. Muffin lived with them over 15 years. They bought a house in the country and with it, inherited a German Shepard that had actually always “hunted its own food”, but in no time flat she, (Gretchen), went from wild, to living and enjoying a fully pampered life all the rest of her days. Years back, my dad, (who was a marine biologist at the time), was working on the Pascagoula River when a black lab jumped in and swam behind his canoe for over a mile. He stayed with my dad while he worked, and then began swimming behind him again on his return. The dog was malnourished and did not appear to belong to anyone, so he put him in the truck, brought him home, and even had his own name tag made for work! Ha! He was named “Hobo”, but was never to be alone again. The next cat that came along was solid black with golden eyes – was feral and was very young. They managed to get him in the house and into the hall bathroom, where he would live for the next couple of months – MAD! Ever so slowly he warmed to them and became domesticated, though it was not at all uncommon when he saw an unsuspecting arm to revert his old self and attack! In fact that is how he got his name “H.T.” (Holy Terror)! HT also lived with them about 15 years before passing on. All of these animals and many more, found patient love and consistent nurturing and care, that lead to their deep affection for my parents.
Prior to coming for my visit, they had been telling me about a new feral calico cat that was very wild and skittish. They had been patiently working on building trust with it over many months and had finally reached the point where he, (now named “Sweetie”), would come and rest daily on their front porch, now knowing that there would be food and a warm and safe place to sleep. However the one thing that cannot be done with Sweetie, is to get anywhere near him. Towards dusk the first day of my visit, my dad said, “Do you want to see Sweetie?” (Well you know I did!) As I approached, he whispered to me, “You have to be very quiet and don’t let him see you through the window because if he sees any movement he will run.” So I gently took my shoes off and walked ever so quietly towards the center of the living room. As I gazed around the outer edge of the window, sure enough he was there, (looking so small and alone), lying in a ball on the cool tiles of the front porch. My dad then whispered something that has been with me ever since. He said, “You know, he sits outside that window every day in the weather and with all the dangers he faces, because he doesn’t realize that he could just come in this house to be loved and taken care of. He has no idea how much love and attention he would be given for the rest of his life. The only thing separating him from his difficult life and a life he’s never known, is this window. You know Rebecca…people are just like that. God loves them SO much, but they never experience it because they won’t just accept it.”
The moment he said that to me it resonated so deeply, because I realized how very true it was. It is true of the addict and alcoholic, who suffers so greatly and for whom freedom is available, but who may never receive it for fear of leaving what, (though destructive), is familiar and feels safe; It is true of the person who perhaps goes through their daily grind, but each night in the quiet moments between consciousness and sleep, is painfully aware of a sense of loneliness, hopelessness or lack of deeper meaning and purpose, that they just can’t seem to shake…who have perhaps heard of a God who can provide answers to each of these bedevilments, but because of deep seated resentment, fear or uncertainty – this relationship is never pursued. Introspectively, I realized how true it was to my own life as a sober person, who has a relationship with God…yet how I will find myself, when being faced with deep fears or insecurities, to have such a tendency to try and handle them on my own, rather than turn them over and trust God to have my back. Inevitably this always results in feeling JUST LIKE that cat, as the weight of my circumstances weighs heavily and creates even more misery. How many times do we choose to stay in our very uncomfortable and difficult circumstances, (perhaps only coming as far as the porch, where we get such a small partial taste of our needs being met), because we are simply too afraid to just come to the other side of that window to be completely loved and cared for?
Thankfully, I have learned that though I still have this tendency to sit out on that porch, on the outside of the window, at ANY TIME during the day or night when I decide I’ve had enough, all I have to do…is just come in.
©2016-2018 Rebecca Balko