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I came too close to losing a cat Thursday. Bean is a walking sofa cushion, a cat whose tombstone, we’ve joked, will read “he lived only to digest.” He is a big cat, near 20 pounds in his prime; a cat who, if he noticed a mouse, wouldn’t so much catch it as break its spine intending only a tentative, exploratory pat.

Last Thursday, having decided I really needed to stay home to work on my Church History course, I noticed he was grunting as he breathed. He’s snored for years, and most cats make occasional noises as they sleep, but he was awake and making continual, low-pitched grunts. His chest was laboring, much more than the rise and fall of normal happy cat breathing. I ended up driving to the 24 hour emergency veterinary service (about 20 miles away, another icy night).

By the time we got there, he was panting and distressed; was whisked off for oxygen and chest xray before I’d even begun filling out paperwork. His heart was enlarged, the lungs filling with fluid, his tongue was pale. I chose to have him stay, get oxygen and IV medication, and hope for response. I also chose that he be DNR, no heroic cardio-pulmonary resuscitation if his heart gave out. The prognosis was grim; he might not survive the night. They’d call if he got worse, would call a progress report in the morning. As I drove home, I decided that if he didn’t rally, I would have him euthanized rather than suffer. I don’t think cats tolerate oxygen tanks and nasal cannula very well.

But I am spared that decision, for now. He;s home, his old lovable, large, dandruffy self again, almost. I see him moving more slowly. I see him more comfortable stretched on the floor than on my lap. I see him unable to sit and scratch his ear with one back paw — he couldn’t keep his balance. Perhaps he’s a bit restless overall. He’ll spend tonight here, then the next couple nights with the local vet while I’m again with my mother. This cat is not a great thing; I’ve had other cats, will again.

And I guess that’s the point. Bean is not the loss I am really grieving now. This week we got my mother moved to a life-care community, into a lovely one-bedroom apartment. The home I grew up in still contains a lot of stuff to deal with — books, possessions, clothing to go to the community theatre or to Goodwill, extra kitchen equipment, my grandparents’ creche, my wedding dress, tools, unwashed dishes, canned goods of varying ages, and 4 inches of water in the basement, gift of a last-night rainstorm. I’m losing my home, even though I haven’t lived in it since 1964, and have lived in this house in Iowa City longer than I lived there. I’m losing my mother’s independence and reliability; not that she won’t listen, empathize, advise — especially advise — but increasingly that support will go the other way. I’m losing the home I’ve come to at Christmas with my daughter, and my brother with his family, for all our children’s lives, where we remember Christmas since — well, the middle of the last century, more or less.

A cat is a small thing. But, through the generous grace of God, I have not had to face that loss this week, too. I have been given that gift, and the gift also of acknowledging my own grief.

overnight at overflow

For three or four years, I’ve been part of a project of several churches in town to provide additional safe, warm, dry space at night from November through March. Our local homeless shelter only holds 29, often not large enough. We live in a state where the wind blows, it gets cold, there are livestock warnings some nights.

The rules we work under ask that we have one person awake through the night, two people there always, one man, one woman. We’ve done this by recruiting two people (usually two women) to split the night: one comes in at 9 to set up, is there to get guests greeted, settled, and watch until 2:00 am. The second person comes in then, watches until morning, when she makes coffee, conversation, helps guests put up their cots, and cleans up a bit after they’ve left. Meanwhile, a third volunteer (usually a man) comes in at 9, leaves after we’ve cleaned up in the morning, but–unless called–gets to sleep from about 10 pm to 6 am. We have a futon, bring your own sleeping bag and such.

Last night–

I think last night was the worst night of overflow I’ve ever had. One woman had left her bag someplace. She and her husband were pretty insistent that we track it down, call the driver, call Shelter House — all her money, and personal items were there. At the same time I made those calls, we were trying to locate the male volunteer to do the overnight-sleeping role. We couldn’t find him, nor any of our other “call at the last minute” men. I decided to spend the night as the second volunteer, after talking with the SH staff and the project director.

We had a family last night, mother, father, and three small children (the youngest, 5 months). As they came in, the mom said, almost under her breath, “I was afraid it would be like this”. We tried to reassure her, apologize for the lack of privacy; offered them a corner to themselves, the use of a portable crib, made a large nest with blankets and mattress pads. No, thank you, they didn’t want cupcakes or apple juice for themselves or their kids as they tried to settle. We pointed out exits, told them we were here to help, and turned out the lights.

I’d just begun to relax on the futon (using my coat as a blanket) when Shelter House called: one more guest, a young man who had come late, but the house was full. Could we help? They could have him walk to us, but explaining where our door is on the alley, kind of complicated. I put my coat and shoes back on, drove to Shelter House to fetch him. He lit a cigarette as soon as he was through the front door of the house; I began to think I might need to lock my car doors with the remote to get him to put it out — but he did, after speed-smoking most of it standing, coatless, in the street. Kind of a jittery guy, though polite; at least he ate a few of our cupcakes.

The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. The lost bag was found and secured in the Shelter House office, the couple were grateful. They’re optimistic, going to look at an apartment today. Our late guest settled down. I reassembled my coat-blanket. And the baby in the family of guests quieted and slept through the night. The young family thanked and hugged the fire-watch volunteer as they left early for the hospital.

This is the worst it gets? We provided comfort, safety, warmth for 10 people, 3 of them very small children? I hope the couple get their apartment so they can re-unite with their teenagers. I hope the young family’s experience with the hospital today is as caring as they need, and a good outcome. I am lucky to be able to do this.

Prayers of the People, Common Cathedral

This picture means to whet your appetite, give you more of a taste of street church. Notice we had a bright, sunny day in Boston. I don’t think we (or Boston) can count on that year round. We’re just starting our third year of overflow housing during November-March because our one general use emergency shelter isn’t big enough. It’s hard work, hard on the volunteers who do the all night fire watch. This weeks Epistle (Revised Common Lectionary) from Thessalonians ends “do not weary of doing good”. I’m glad I heard that.

Prayers of the People, Common CathedralOriginally uploaded by jhwc1975

Prayers of the People are that–begun and ended by the celebrant, but made up of what the people have to say. Thanks, fears, hopes, plans, frustrations–and a prayer for the Red Sox. This young woman is one we encountered on the streets on Saturday; she came to Common Cathedral on Sunday, and is sharing her plans to better her life by accepting help. If you think there’s someone wiping an eye in the background, you’re right.

Good news

Officially a postulant

Click and you can read the whole letter from Bishop Scarfe. I am now a postulant for the Diaconate in the Diocese of Iowa.

Common Cathedral altar

Common Cathedral altarOriginally uploaded by jhwc1975

Sunday, October 30: setting up the altar and cross for Common Cathedral on Boston Common. Read more about this project by using the ecclesia link.

street church

“street church” is one way to refer to many ministries which bring Gospel, presence, and worship to people on the street. Some are homeless, some housed, some use shelters, some don’t. They are not a group we welcome easily into “housed churches”, and they don’t feel comfortable coming in. But they still seek Christ and the dignity of encounter with another as a child of God. There are flourishing street ministries in Boston, New York, and other cities; the link to “ecclesia” in the blogroll will take you to the Boston Common Cathedral site. Rev. Debbie’s essays on her path to this ministry and on the genesis of the street church explain it.

trying on a blog

I’ve always kept a journal when I go on a trip–starting with an 8 week summer camp in Maine, when I was 15. I’ve never quite finished journalling the last days of the trip; I’ve never filled any of the purpose-bought notebooks. So I have a shelf with mostly-finished, half-filled but charming small notebooks from trips to England, Peru, Morocco.

Now I’m on a different journey and so a different kind of journal seems appropriate. The physical journey will be in May, doing a month’s internship in street ministry. The real journey is in discernment for the vocational diaconate in the Episcopal Church. My intention is to write about the internship when I’m in the midst of it. Between now and then, I’m going to learn how to use this handsome site my daughter has generously set up and hosted for me. While I’m on a learning curve, I won’t be talking about ministry all the time. Books might be fair game, and the cats, and knitting, and anything else that comes to mind.

Those of you who’ve graciously agreed to read and react, I welcome comments.