The Angel from the Fire

The messenger found me in the bitter winter of my exile; she found me frozen into the grotesque layer over my soul, the kind of ever more intransigent imprisonment that feeds on fear, pain, disillusionment, and darkness. Razor sharp shards of once glassy brightness littered the landscape, mercilessly still glittering in the fading light. I had almost forgotten that there was a journey from here, that there were places where the bubbling of life softened the intransigence into a sticky, horrid mess. I had seen that those sticky messes could be burned away by a persistent fire. It was a fire born from the same torch that lit the burning bush in front of Moses. But it was a fire I had learned to hate, a fire I that I could never quite manage not to feel. I was tired. I no longer wanted any part of this journey filled with blood.

Here is where the metaphor sort of ends. But here is where I tell you that Sophie came out of that fire. She was a messenger – yet she was herself. Yes, obviously, she was a cat. That was the point. She was never more or less than what she was. Writing all this doesn’t make the loss “meaningful” or the separation from her less painful. It isn’t supposed to. It’s part of going through the pain to reach the other side. Where I go when I get there remains to be seen. She and I were so much alike. Alone, harried, stressed, and cranky from having inadequate inner resources to meet life’s demands. Lashing out at those who grabbed at us at the wrong moment. (But she only did it once, whereas I did it all the time. Figuratively, of course.) Bearing the label of “Biter” on our paperwork. Sophie is gone now from the physical space she gracefully occupied for so long. She will never be gone from the fire, from the love from which she came. While she was she was here, she could have kept biting if she was treated like a “Biter” or if she she was never able to let go of feeling threatened. But she let herself be restful and content, to blossom from loving and being loved. She let herself be Sophie. Sophie’s leaving this tiny place reminds me that there’s a fire that burns in vast dimensions, that the heart of love is and never was confined by my fear, pain, disillusionment, and darkness. The journey to life and the melting of the thick, scaly hide over my soul may be full of blood and black sticky messes. It may mean healing and cleansing and sharp edges that open wounds. But it means finding the life underneath all that death, a life that has never been extinguished. In Sophie’s last hour with me, she was on a pillow on my lap. She purred the whole time. She had not purred for three days. I think she was too uncomfortable and/or in too much pain. But I will never forget she gave me that last gift. She wanted me to know that the love and the joy would never die.

And so it comes to this  – the fact that someone loved me enough to send me this furry little angel and to give me this message awakens a strange sort of rage in me. It’s the rage of my hope, of my faith. A rage to melt the “frozen” inertia of just existing. A rage to begin the journey. There’s a tiny place I know I need to leave. Again.

As odd as this may seem, I have never looked up Sophie’s name before. This is even odder because I have often told the story about my knowing that I would name her Sophie and her son Alexander when I was going to get them from the shelter. I looked up her name today. I was pretty sure that it meant “wisdom” as I suffered through several weeks of intensive Greek in college before withdrawing from that insanity. But honestly I never thought about it before. Well, of course you know that anytime you look up a name…or almost anything on the internet…you will find all sorts of weird stuff you may or may not believe. However, some interesting things I found about the name Sophie are: association with integrity in the marketplace, rooting in life instead of doctrine, and characterization by exile from the mainstream. If had I found all this before now, I doubt that I would have understood. I think it will take me awhile to really understand now.

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