When my father was dying, I traveled a thousand miles from home to be with him in his last days. I soon discovered that even when you know what's going to happen there's still no way to really prepare for such an event. It was far more heartbreaking than I'd anticipated, one of the most difficult and painful times in my life.
After he passed away I stayed alone in his apartment. There were so many things to deal with: arrangements to be made, mounds of paperwork to sort through, bills to pay, belongings to pack, meetings with real estate agents and lawyers. Weeks passed; it all seemed absolutely endless. I was completely overwhelmed and unbearably lonely. I hated the utter silence of the apartment; how could rooms so full of furniture still feel so empty?
But one evening the silence was broken: I heard crying outside. I opened the door to find a little gray kitten on the steps. He was scrawny, beat up, and pretty pathetic looking. I remember thinking that he looked the way I felt. I brought him inside and gave him a can of tuna. He gobbled it ravenously and then almost immediately fell sound asleep right there on the kitchen floor.
The next morning I checked with neighbors and learned that the kitten had been abandoned by a previous tenant who'd moved out and left him behind. So the little kitten was there all alone, just like I was. As I walked back to the apartment I wracked my brain trying to figure out what to do with him. Having something else to take care of seemed like the very last thing I needed. But as soon as I opened the apartment door he came running and in a single bound leapt into my arms. It was clear from that moment that he had no intention of going anywhere. I decided to keep him -- just until I went back home. I started calling him Willis, in honor of my father's best friend.
From then on, things
grew easier. There were still long days of meetings and errands but no
longer was I returning to a lonely, empty apartment. Instead I was now
greeted with wild enthusiasm and an abundance of affection. There were
still hours spent on the phone getting accounts in order, but with
Willis purring contently in my lap the time seemed to pass much more
quickly. At night, instead of restless tossing and turning, I slept more
peacefully because he was curled up on my pillow or sometimes even on
top of my head. And his crazy kitten antics made me laugh until my
stomach ached -- the first time I'd laughed since being there. His
presence and companionship changed everything. I simply don't know how I
would have made it through that bleak time without him.
When the time finally came for me to return home I had to decide what to do about Willis. Of course by that time it wasn't really a decision -- there was absolutely no way I would leave without him. But if you've ever driven in a car with a cat you know what a challenge it can be. And when I thought of all the hours and the hundreds of miles ahead of us, I dreaded it. In spite of my trepidation, I packed us up and off we went. Much to my amazement, Willis never cried the whole way home. For the vast majority of the trip he just curled up in the back seat and slept. I think he was just happy to be with me. And I think he knew he was going home.
It's now been five years since my father died. And the scrawny little gray cat is scrawny no more. He's now a strapping twelve-pound boy and as handsome as can be. What a gift he was and continues to be. Over the years, several people have commented on how nice it was of me to rescue him. But he and I know what really happened -- the truth is that we rescued each other. I may have given him a home but he gave me something greater -- Willis taught me a powerful lesson for life. He taught me to trust. I now know that even in what seems like the darkest of times we should never lose heart and never despair. Because just when you need it the most, and just when you expect it the least, an angel can appear. And sometimes, instead of wings, they come on four legs and wearing a fur coat.