Holiness in our Midst: Session 59

Holiness in our Midst


Do you have a pet story? When I think about a special relationship with a pet, Thomas T. (for “The”) Cat comes to mind. His whole hyphenated name was: Thomas-The-Cat-Who-Taught-Me-A Cat-Curmudgeon-To-At-Least-Appreciate-All-Cats. His nickname was “Tommy.”

In 1988, Thomas T. Cat had already taken up residence on the family farm when I moved there from downtown Chicago to care for my grandmother and Sadie, a lovely woman who had always lived with my grandparents as a companion. I had always been indifferent to cats (dogs, too!) until he positioned himself, politely and thoughtfully, along my path. When I went outside to do chores or walk the fields, he never left my side. He was probably a housecat who got lost. For certain, he wasn’t like the skittish barn cats, who caught mice and lived in the outbuildings. He thought he was a puppy dog. He was, in fact, so docile and trusting that I told people that we probably could play “catch” with him; I was sure he would just role up in a ball, cooperate and think it fun. (We never tried this, nor wanted to, but you get the picture.) As a person prone to ponder, I often needed to sit on the farmhouse porch steps to just think. Then he would drape his rusty-orange and white body over my knee, and sit there for an hour with his face five inches from mine. He insisted on eye contact. He liked stories, too. So, I would tell him things out loud: how I sometimes missed such things as jazz and deep-dish pizza. How I was uncertain about my family’s future after grandma passed away and the farm was sold. How I was ever so worried about how I would make a living when my work here was complete. How crazy different my farm life was from my city life.  (I had lived in Chicago for more than 12 years.) He was non-judgmental and kind, the best kind of Listener. His role was caregiver/companion to me, as I tended to my grandmother during her last days. Gradually, I understood how persons could get all worked up over pets. “’Tommy’ loves you,” my grandmother said. She was right. He looked out for me, and I gladly returned the favor.

One autumn day, a hunter trespassed on the farm, and his dogs attacked Thomas T. Cat. Sadie screamed, “Tommy got pounced!” Sure enough, he lay bleeding and whimpering, making a little bed for himself in the ferns on the north side of the farmhouse. He let me sponge him off. I wrapped him in old towels. I cooked (flavored) oatmeal for him, brought him milk three times a day, and nursed him back to health. He made a good comeback, but he was no longer able to follow me around. Still, he found me whenever I needed to talk about what was really on my mind.

It was Thomas T. Cat who stopped me from making a mistake that would have had family repercussions for generations. A few months after he was hurt, I spent a week in Chicago, walking in Lincoln Park, enjoying the lakefront, eating out at my old haunts. The pull to go back to the sweet familiarity of Chicago was so great that my friends and I began thinking of ways that I could curtail my family farm time, somehow graciously making an early exit. Back in Iowa, my plans became clearer. One morning I went on a walk toward the fields specifically to plan my get-away, to plot how to tell my grandmother that I could no longer sustain my full-time caregiver role. I was just starting down the lane, when a heard a loud, “MEOW!” Thomas T. Cat had followed me. He indicated to me, Lassie-like, that I should turn around and follow him, so I did. I swear that what I witnessed next is true. He stopped at the clearing next to the back door. He had herded all of cats on the farmstead in one spot, many I had never seen. It was as if they were posing for a family portrait. They were in four groupings, each with a mother and father, and their kittens. Perhaps 20 cats, in all. Thomas took his place with his “family.” They (and I) stood stock still for perhaps two or three minutes, facing each other. It was one of the holiest moments of my life. I ran upstairs to get my camera, but they had scattered by the time I came back down. Thomas T. Cat had made his point. His message: What will happen to me, to us, if you go to Chicago? Who will feed us? Who will care for us? Your caring has extended beyond your family to the animal Kingdom. Your reach extends beyond what you can see right now. Please stay. Epilogue: Thomas won the day. I never mentioned the subject of leaving with my family or this “happening.” I went back into the house that day and said, “Maybe we need to put out a little more cat food each night.” I stayed the caregiving course for three more years. After my grandmother died and the family farm was sold, I cared for Sadie in my home until she passed away.

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: Do you have a pet story? Share about a special relationship with a pet.


  1. Read the above reflection.

  2. Write a reflection on a special relationship with a pet. How did the animal come into your life? How was your life changed?


     1.   Read aloud Session LVIV.

     2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt.

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

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