Mr. Bojangles, Rascal, God and Me — 9/7/11

September 12th, 2011 by BEBlogger

Well, the deed is done.  I’m saddened, but not all broken up about it; after all he was just a cat.  Still, if he’d have been suffering with pain, I could better justify putting him down September 6th at 6:30 pm.

I found him at the end of November 1994, along with two other kittens that were apparently abandoned.  When I opened my car door, the three of them scampered to me, having emerged from a pile of brush and junk.  They appeared to be only 6 to 8 weeks old, and mercy dictated I rescue them. At the same time I didn’t want a cat around the house.  If I took them, then I’d have to either keep them or go through the hassle of finding them homes.

Mercy won in the end (there was really no question), and I loaded up the 3 kittens and took them to our home, less than half a mile away.  We decided to keep the male and named him Rascal, and found homes for the two females.  I can say without fear of error, Rascal was the best cat we ever had.  In the past we’d had some real losers, but he was easy going, affectionate, and loyal.  Sue, the kids, and I all loved him.  Of course he deposited the occasional hairball around the place, but that was a relatively small price to pay for having such a friendly feline.

He was also one of the biggest cats I’d ever seen.  Everyone who saw him commented on how large he was.  At our house on the hill in Port Matilda PA he was undisputed king, and all other cats in the neighborhood bowed in subjection, or lost a piece of ear or tuft of fur for their insolence.  When we moved 8 miles to our present home 6 and a-half years ago, we were afraid he might run away to look for his old stomping grounds.  Instead he moved right in as though nothing had changed.  When Sue and I would take walks down our half-mile lane, we would often look back and see him following from a distance, meandering along at a leisurely gate.  We’d eventually outpace him, but upon our return he’d be sitting in the middle of the trail waiting for us.

The average life expectancy for cats is 14.  At nearly 17 years old, Rascal had beaten the odds.  But now a “lion in winter,” he was deaf, going blind, and had taken to urinating around the house, no longer bothering to go to his litter box.  He was also less sure of himself.  Though just last week the vet told us his heart was great and his blood work normal, he was as the cliché goes, just a shadow of his former self.  The morning before I took him for his lethal injection, he walked up the steps tentatively, compensating for his lost eyesight and aged body.  He no longer bounded up the steps with the ease and confidence of former years.  He could no longer jump up into his favorite chair to sleep, or into our laps for companionship.  In pain?  No.  Frail?  Yes.  Too old to stay outside, and too messy to allow inside, we made the decision to put him down.

Anyway it was a little tough taking Rascal on the last roundup.  I put him in the pet carrier, and drove the 19 miles to the vet, with him in the passenger seat.  As I drove I stuck my pinky through the wire door of the carrier and stroked his face and ear.  He responded by rubbing his cheek against my finger.  Upon arrival at the clinic, I waited a few minutes before the vet took me back to his examination room.  After the doctor injected Rascal with a sedative, I picked him up and petted him until he drifted off to sleep.  I laid him on the examination table, and stroked his fur while the vet and I spoke of the sadness of death.  If left to run its course, this first injection would have eventually caused Rascal’s death within 30 minutes.  However, once I said my final goodbyes and left the room, the vet gave him another injection directly into his heart, killing him instantly.

No cat can ever replace him.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.  As I drove to the clinic with Rascal in the front seat, two thoughts kept going through my mind.  One was an old bittersweet song by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band called “Mr. Bojangles,” about an aging, worn out soft shoe dancer who performs for drinking money.  One line in particular kept looping in my head:

He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him
traveled about
The dog up and died, he up and died
And after 20 years he still grieves.

The other thought that I couldn’t seem to shake was a verse from the Bible, where the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:19 – For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

I wondered why I’d have two such seemingly unrelated thoughts stuck in my brain.  I understood how each one alone was appropriate.  As I mulled over the imminent death of my cat, I recalled in the song how Mr. Bojangles grieved over his dog.  But why the second thought?  This too was appropriate, because this verse is in a passage where Paul is talking about the Kingdom of God. The point of the passage in context is that God’s people have been given the Holy Spirit, assuring them that God’s promises are sure.  Thus, we look forward to the day when the curse on the earth will be lifted, and in the Kingdom all death, sorrow, sin, evil, and pain will be eliminated.  Even earth and the animal kingdom look forward (figuratively) to the day in which death and suffering are no more, and nature itself will be freed from the effects of sin.

On the surface there seemed to be no connection between Mr. Bojangles and this passage of Scripture.  Eventually though, it hit me that this was not the case.  The two thoughts are interconnected.  Mr. Bojangles expresses in fictional form what all of us know in fact, namely that death brings sorrow; that pain is a reality; that in life there is much hardship.

On the other hand, from a biblical perspective grief is a result of the fall of Adam.  All death, whether it’s the death of “just a cat” like Rascal, or the much more heartbreaking death of a parent, sibling, or – most devastating of all – a child, is the consequence of Adam’s sin. But for the Christian, pain and suffering lift our hearts and minds upward, reminding us of the coming of the Kingdom.  A lengthier quote from Romans 8:18-25 may help make the connection.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

In other words, death is not the end.  God’s people, indeed all of creation will one day know a magnificent reversal, the vanquishing forever of the curse, the renewal of the whole cosmos, the glory of the Kingdom, for which now we patiently wait.

I was 35 years old when I found Rascal.  In 3 weeks I’ll be 52.  Rascal is now gone.  Someday I’ll be gone.  Someday we’ll all be gone.  But I have the absolute, rock solid assurance that I will spend eternity in a renewed Heaven and Earth, where the sin, sorrows, and pain of this present order will be forever eliminated; where righteousness, peace, and joy will be the order of the day.  This Kingdom is provided for God’s people, not because we’re good, but because God is gracious and kind.  We have access to it because God’s Son, Jesus Christ, bore the sins of the world, that through faith in Him we might receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, and escape the wrath to come.  I hope to see you in the Kingdom, too, with all the others who trust Him for salvation.

Will Rascal be there?  Personally I doubt it.  The Bible is clear there will be animals in the Kingdom; the lion will lay down with the lamb, remember?  But as far as the animals of this earth going to Heaven, the Bible is silent.  I’m sure the glories of the heavenly fauna will more than compensate for our loss of animal companionship on earth.  But who knows?  The Bible doesn’t say they will be there, but it doesn’t say they won’t be there, either.  So maybe along with all the friends, family, and saints of days gone by, I’ll see ol’ Rascal too.  Regardless, today the Kingdom is just a little more real to me, and I yearn for it with just a little more assurance and anticipation.  And if Rascal does happen to be there, I’m sure we won’t have to worry about hairballs.