Around midnight, last night, after I had finished reading, I noticed some cat on a windowsill, softly mewing for something, out of view.
Usually ours climb the screen clamoring loudly, get yelled at, and have to wait awhile for their food, as punishment. I roused myself from the recliner, fetched a cup of dry food to reward this quiet one, and opened the door, when I realized our missing gray tom, a four-day prodigal, had returned, starving and affectionate.
I’d seen it before. The wandering cat usually reappears emptied of all but a new appreciation for the comforts of home.
Being gone so long is hard on a cat.
He was skinny. Aside from his plush winter coat, there wasn’t much to give him bulk. I picked him up to cuddle a moment, and noticed the difference in his weight.
He was dirty. We had only the moon for light, but I could feel grubbiness on his fur, and something stiff in it, I hoped wasn’t dried blood. I put him down, and although he played at biting my toes for more attention, I wanted to wait until I could see what was wrong with him. I didn’t want to touch any sores. Besides, he needed to eat.
He was comical. He traced a circle between food, water, and toes, and back again. Once he realized I would scratch his ruff while he ate and drank, he settled down. Funny thing is: a cat so proper and reserved that “Earl Grey” was a perfect name for him would return so recklessly abandoned to a desire for touch.
Being home, in itself, feels so good.
It was past my bedtime and I slept well, with the happy secret of Earl’s return to lull me.
This morning we cuddled again and he ate some more. In the sunlight, I could see nothing wrong with him. Oh, he wobbled a little. A few minutes of brushing untangled and burnished his fur, but it would take a week or more of food and water to build back his strength.
Isn’t that how it is with prodigals?
I mean, it took a few moments of ceremony to put a coat, sandals, and a ring on The Prodigal Son. Then he probably looked just like a son, to strangers, from a distance.
Being at home is vital.
How many weeks of bathing, feeding, oiling, combing, tooth brushing, and perfuming, did it take before the Prodigal Son looked and smelled like a son, on close inspection, to those who really knew? We don’t know.
And the reason is: That part doesn’t matter.
Because the first thing is to come home.
And the prodigal wife and mom — do her significant others expect perfection, her first day back at her real job? Does she expect it of herself? Or, is her simple act of returning enough for today?