Thursday night – my husband and I returned home from work (home still being the extended-stay hotel where we have lived since December 14 due to a water heater failure in our new home). I was checking phone messages when I noticed that one of our cats was nibbling the leaf of a plant that we brought home from church last Sunday. It was an Easter Lily.
For some reason I thought to myself – I should check on that – I don’t know anything about lilies and cats.
I googled it – and discovered to my horror that Easter lilies are extremely toxic to cats, causing kidney failure and death.
We immediately called our vet. We were referred to the Pet ASPCA. We learned that the Easter Lily is the most toxic of the lily family to cats; they both needed immediate treatment, involving 48 hours of IV fluids and repeated bloodwork to determine whether kidney values were going up. If they were, there was little hope of survival. If the cats had even had pollen from the lily on their coats and ingested it while grooming, the toxicity would still be significant.
Four days later – the cats survived. We are out a significant amount of money. Most importantly, we learned a huge lesson – and it is not that Easter Lilies are dangerous for cats.
The lesson I learned is that my animals, my companion animals, are a significant part of what has kept me in balance through the turmoil of the last several months. Having that consistency of caring, snuggly fur babies has given me comfort and helped me make it through another day. Needing to be there for them has made it easier to keep going.
I imagine that there are many people out there whose companion animals make life a little less challenging and a lot more satisfying. When I was afraid that I would lose them – well, let’s just say that I didn’t like what was going on these last several days. Learning that they would be ok has lifted a huge cloud from my world. It has also asked me to examine my definition of “home”.
Robert Frost, in his famous poem, “The Death of the Hired Man”, juxtaposes two definitions of home –
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
“I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
From The Poetry of Robert Frost: Collected Poems, 1969
These two definitions have always troubled me – one exemplifies what I call an ethic of righteousness, focusing on merit and a kind of grudging acceptance of responsibility for someone who probably doesn’t deserve it but is taken in anyway. The other focuses on an ethic of mercy or grace, recognizing that sometimes creatures just don’t deserve care, but receive it anyway out of grace or compassion.
What do my cats, or any companion animals, have to do with this story? The cats, for me, are the carriers of grace. We have a responsibility to the animals in our care, and they give us without condition the experience of unconditional love and acceptance. The prospect of losing them brought home to me the significance of their living presence. I am grateful, and wherever they are, is certainly home to me.
I wonder – what makes “home” for you? I have found through all this that home has little to do with place, and a lot more to do with the connections with people and companion animals who surround me. I will be very happy to return to our home – hopefully within the next two weeks. However, I know that what makes it home has a lot more to do with my husband and my cats than with the place itself.