Sunday, March 25, 2012

Finding our way home

My mother periodically calls to tell me about something she has found: A photograph maybe, or perhaps a report card, or an entry from one of her dozens of diaries. The most recent was a letter she wrote to her mother (my Nana) in January, 1970.

In it, Mom apologizes for not writing the whole thing in one sitting (as if Nana would even have known, much less minded). But, she explains, as she was halfway through the letter, Ben (my brother, who had just turned 10) called to her excitedly:

"Mom! Chuckie's home!"

Chuckie was one of the dozen or so (admittedly, that's conservative; we weren't on the spay/neuter bandwagon that we are now) cats who made their way into our family. He had been missing for close to two months, and now was back. But this little creature was hardly the Chuckie we remembered. He was skin and bones. He could hardly walk. His coat, once black and shiny, was dusky and thin.

Ben told Mom the only reason he knew the strange and unfamiliar creature was Chuckie -- this is the part that made my sister Susan cry when Mom read the letter to her, and, when Mom read it to me, made me beg her to stop if the ending was sad -- from the red collar and tag he was still wearing.

Mom took Chuckie to the vet, who said he was in really bad shape. She surmised that on one cold night when he was roaming outside, he'd sought warmth under a car's toasty hood, one he could have climbed into from underneath. Miraculously, Chuckie wasn't sliced when the engine started, but he was stuck. When the car stopped, the vet continued, he probably found a way to the concrete below, and started walking.

"He must have walked a long way," the vet said, "because the little pads on his feet are almost worn through."

She told Mom that although Chuckie's outcome was questionable, she couldn't bring herself to euthanize him because he had fought so hard. I am about to cry just thinking about this. But I can't; I'm afraid were I to start, my tears would become those for every animal we ever lost, or those I never knew but whose deaths still tear off a piece of my heart.

Instead, on this glorious spring day, as I plant zinnias under the mailbox and tomatoes in wooden crates, I think about Chuckie's resolve, about his pluck, about his determination to do what we all -- realistically or  miraculously -- strive to accomplish. And so we persevere, no matter how small the odds, how many the miles, how long the journey or how short the jaunt: 

Like Chuckie, we just want to find our way home.