We have two old cats, a 17 year old cat named Edward and a 15 year old cat named Patrick. Patrick is blind, due to detached retinas caused by either high blood pressure or something worse. For the record, as soon as the vet told me that determining the cause of Patrick’s blindness would involve lots of expensive testing, I decided I didn’t need to know why. He doesn’t need to know why, or nor does he care why he went from seeing to not seeing. He doesn’t walk very fast as he bumps his way through the house or even outside, so he doesn’t hurt himself (unlike when I first discovered that he was blind, which was when he just walked off the kitchen table and fell solidly onto the floor). He can find his food and he can find his towel-covered heating pad in the garage. He can’t find the litter box, unfortunately, so it’s good that we humans can see where we are walking.
Last Saturday morning was a beautiful, sunny fall morning and I opened the garage door so that Patrick could bump along his way from the garage (his indoor apartment) to the patio (his outdoor apartment). In the summertime, Patrick prefers to spend all his time outside on the patio, as he did before he lost his eyesight. I watched him begin his journey from garage to patio, then I left to go to the grocery store.
The specifics of my failed grocery store trip are irrelevant except that forgetting my debit card caused me to come home sooner than I anticipated. As I pulled into the driveway, I could hear our neighbor’s little dog barking from inside his fenced in backyard. I glanced on the patio: no Patrick. I glanced in the garage: no Patrick. I glanced in the direction of the barking dog, and there was Patrick, inside the neighbor’s fenced in backyard, back arched, tail full, staring but not seeing the little dog who was running circles around him, barking.
Our neighbor’s dog is little, he may even be a puppy. Patrick was the same size as this little dog and the dog did not appear to be menacing, just playful. As I opened the gate, I marveled that this blind cat was able to squeeze into the neighbor’s back yard through such a narrow opening; but then, his blindness has encouraged persistence on his part. So what I saw before me was Patrick, crouched and ready to strike, and a small dog jumping and barking around him. I began calling and talking to Patrick, you know, to let him know that I was there. Then I made an unfortunate choice: I decided to pick up blind Patrick and remove him from the barking dog.
As my right hand cupped under Patrick’s stomach, he reacted in the only way that a frightened cat—blind or otherwise—would react: he latched onto my hand with the full force of his sharp feline teeth. And his jaws held on tight. The pain was incredible, as in “am I going to pass out?” fierce. I hustled out of the neighbor’s yard, Patrick hanging off of my hand, and managed to get to the garage where he unlocked his jaw and I dropped him onto his heating pad.
Now I’ll fast-forward through my visit to the nearby clinic and shots and antibiotics so that you know I am all right. I have learned a valuable lesson which is when choosing between a small barking dog and an old blind cat, pick up the small barking dog and not the old blind cat. Or pick up neither!
But this incident of the blind cat and the barking dog illustrated the power of fear. Like animals, we humans fear what we cannot see or understand. Our imaginations can get the better of us and we lash out blindly at whatever threatens us. Lately, I’ve felt like there have been a lot of “blind Patricks” in the news, sinking their teeth into refugees or religious groups or different races; anything that they fear. Fear inflicts pain, it does not create peace. Fear is not listed among fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Fear does nothing to improve a difficult or complicated situation. Over 80 times in the Old and New Testament, God or God’s representative, says, “do not be afraid” to human beings. God knows that we instinctively fear and gently reminds us, over and over again, not to fear.
So at the risk of sounding too simplistic, let us not be fearful of each other like hissing blind cats and barking dogs. Rather let us follow God’s imperative to “be not afraid” and the King’s command to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit those who are in prison. As we enter the Advent season, let us live faithfully not fearfully, remembering “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18)