"Human beings and animals share the same fate. One dies just like the other -- both have the same life-breath ... All go to the same place: all are from the dust; all return to the dust .... So I perceived that there was nothing better for human beings but to enjoy what they do because that's what they're allotted in life. Who, really, is able to see what will happen in the future?" ~ Ecclesiastes 3:19-20, 22 (Common English Bible) When my friend, Meredith, told me that she had adopted a cat, I was not thrilled. I had grown up in a pet-less household, afraid of dogs and leery of cats. An unfortunate encounter with a bulldog at age two had left me with a scratch on the eye and a fear that all four-legged creatures were out to hurt me. Though I outgrew the extremeness of that trepidation, animals still made me uneasy.
Fortunately, I did develop an affection for dogs over the years. But I wasn't sure what to think of cats. Years ago, I was leading worship at a nursing home that had a community cat and dog. The cat, Snowball, apparently disliked my preaching. She hissed at me, then came running after me during the service. Someone had to chase her down as Snowball literally ran me out of the building.
On the heels of the "Snowball Fight," I made plans to visit Meredith -- and Elliott. I told her about the encounter, and she assured me that Elliott was different. In fact, she told me, he was more like a dog than a cat in personality. I was still skeptical, but I did trust my friend.
Elliott and I spent lots of time together while Meredith had to work, and my leeriness of cats subsided. She was right: he was much more like a dog. We played with a ball, snuggled on the couch, and wandered around together. He seemed happy to be with me. By the time I left, I was as sad to leave Elliott as Meredith.
A few months ago, I received a text that I knew was coming but still dreaded: Elliott had been put to sleep after months of illness. Meredith cried. I cried. Everyone cried. This was the first time that I'd personally felt the effects of losing a pet, and it was, simply put, tough. Around the same time, I had begun making plans to adopt a dog of my own. Though I had planned to wait a few months to find my pup, along came Isaac. A white lab mix who followed a friend home on her morning walk, Isaac had me hooked the first time I met him. But on the heels of Elliott's death, my usually optimistic attitude turned to sadness. All I could think about was the fact that, like Elliott, Isaac will not be around forever.
The writer of Ecclesiastes faced this same struggle to understand life's fleetingness for all of us. It's no surprise that he looked to God's four-legged creatures in this search for meaning. We all face the same fate as mortals. But as Christians, we face our endings with hope: hope of a resurrection and reunion. As Advent is upon us, we recall that even the darkness of death, be it of a pet or a loved one, cannot separate us from the eternal light of the Christ child. Such hope should cast out our fears and call us to enjoy the light of today and the joy that comes with it.
Now, as I prepare for Isaac to move in, and as the happy memories of Elliott's life overshadow the sadness of his passing, I give thanks for God's creatures, especially our pets. In their lives, and in their deaths, are lessons for us on how to live: enjoying each breath, each day, and each moment with hope of more that are to come.
all good things to each of you, Pastor Darian
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.