Our church owns a house, and in that house there lives a truly awesome tenant whom we love and appreciate and want to keep happy. Yesterday this tenant came into the church office and broke some bad news.
Over the weekend, when the temperature dipped into the 20’s for the first time this season, a stray cat must have found its way into the relative warmth of her basement, seeking shelter, I assume, from the cold.
It lay down on the ground and proceeded to die. I am convinced (due to the position the cat last assumed) it died a nice, comfortable, peaceful death.
The problem was that our feline friend was now starting to smell, for basements in old houses are not meant to keep death or its odor at bay. The decomposition process that is a natural part of life (and especially death) had begun, alerting our occupant to the presence of this most unseemly of guests.
Death had indeed come to visit, and had overstayed its welcome.
Our tenant was understandably surprised by her discovery, and politely asked us as her landlords, to evict the remains of her unwelcome guest. At this point I considered waiting on a trustee to make his appearance; after all, this kind of thing isn’t really ‘pastoral’ work.
I didn’t go to seminary to learn how to schlep dead cats from basement floors.
But she was distraught, the trustee was an hour or more away, and the whole experience sounded like something that would make a good story if only I had the courage to live it.
So I walked over with our wonderful tenant, she pointed me to the basement, she handed me a garbage bag and a shovel, and I proceeded with the eviction.
And I was surprised.
It was a beautiful cat.
It was bigger than I had imagined, and heavier. I soon found myself wishing it had stiffened up. It was surprisingly supple, which, when combined with the awkward corner in which it had died, made getting it on the shovel a bit of an experience in itself. It took a couple of tries from a couple of different angles, with the head rolling this way and that.
The corpse of this cat refused to stay put.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Cats never do what you want them to do in life; why would they be more agreeable in death?
After my first few attempts to get the shovel completely underneath the unresponsive body, the smell really got to me. I wonder now if my poking and prodding forced some odoriferous emanations into my breathable space.
I took a moment to zip up my coat, covering my mouth and nose with the collar.
My job wasn’t yet done. I considered retreat, then decided against it.
“You are not welcome here” I thought, then swallowed some vomit and turned back to my task.
This time I finally managed to get the cat on the shovel and deposited it in its entirety into the garbage bag I had prepared for the occasion.
I gingerly gathered up the bag, tied it off, and took it out into the crisp, cold daylight that remained of the day.
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes in the accomplishment of simple tasks like shoveling a dead cat into a garbage bag and hauling it outside into the cold of winter. There’s a certain nobility about facing death; even the death of a stray cat; and gaining the sense that you have emerged victorious, vanquishing the remnants, bringing the deeds of darkness into the light and allowing the clean, fresh, winter time air to blow the stench of death from the dank recesses in the basement of your soul.
I mean house.