Max (Fall 1998 – August 21, 2014)

Max on Bed Close-up
Max Withrow King (1998-2014)

I adopted Max from the Idaho Humane Society when we were both babies. She was a tiny orange ball and when I saw her, I knew I was there for her. I learned years later than most orange cats like her were boys. She broke the mold in more way than one.

I was an idiot back then, no idea what it meant to take care of a kitten, and living in a campus house that didn’t allow animals, but she was my girl and a couple of lame rules weren’t going to get in the way of our happiness.

kitty in a lunch bagShe was a feisty girl, who loved to play, all day and all night. She played with my comb, grocery bags, and my shoes. I would frequently find her attached to the window screens, and that’s probably what prompted the notice in my mailbox that I had 30 days to vacate or re-home Max. My mom happened to be visiting, and she graciously agreed to bring Max home to Eugene with her, since I knew I’d be moving back in a couple of months. Mom was pretty entertained by Max’s love of paper bags and bemused at her habit of sitting on the ledge of the bathtub whenever Mom took a soak. Of course, Max loved the idea of water much more than the reality. She fell in to my bath once. It wasn’t fun for either of us.

In her lifetime, Max travelled across the U.S. by car twice and airplane once. She lived in fifteen different houses or apartments with me, and stayed more than a few nights in hotels and hostels across the country.

One night, shortly after arriving in Pensacola, Max disappeared for a day, after having been accidentally let out the back door by a houseguest. Totally devastated, I spent $15 I didn’t have stapling up reward posters all over the neighborhood. Long before I had a digital camera or smartphone, the posters simply gave a description of Max and said “she comes when you whistle a tune.” I walked the streets and the woods behind the house frantically whistling her favorite song: “You Are My Sunshine.” She arrived home late the night after she got out, scratched at the door, and walked straight to her food bowl when I let her in—not a girl long on ceremony.

image (5)One of Max’s favorite games was fetch. She would drop a tiny foam ball into my hand and wait patiently for me to throw or roll it across the floor. She’d run after it, paw at it for a couple of minutes, and eventually bring it back to me for another throw. She loved playing fetch on the stairs. The bouncier the throw, the better. As she slowed the last year, she stopped wanting to play and would instead leave the ball in my shoe—a gesture of nostalgic love.

When I started work at PETA, she was my carry-on bag, and her litter and food was one of the two boxes that I checked in Portland and picked up in Norfolk. She was angry at me for three days after the plane ride, and I came home from dinner one night to find that she’d squirmed out of our attic room, found her way into a bathroom in the middle of renovations, and managed to get trapped between the floor and ceiling, taking out a few ceiling tiles in the meantime. I was able to coax her out with the help of a co-worker and a can of wet food.

Max was food-obsessed. I woke up once to find a plastic box of pastries on the floor of my studio apartment, a giant hole ripped in the top and bits of turnover missing from the contents within. I quickly learned that nutritional yeast needed to be in a sealed tupperware container. And if a sandwich or toast was in play, she’d straight up paw my plate in her attempt to get a nibble.

max and giehl snuggle

Max wasn’t very fond of most people or animals. She fought nearly daily with Katie, distrusted even the gentle Emma, and read Isaiah with a hermeneutic of deep suspicion. But she loved Giehl. And she continued to tolerate me. The last year, as her health declined, she cherished opportunities to snuggle up on Giehl’s chest whenever he came near our bed. She’d talk to him nightly, telling him it was time for her wet food and time for him to lay down so she could go to sleep.

After sixteen years together, I’m sure there are stories that I’m missing. As I held her tonight, as she lost consciousness and drifted away, I told her that I loved her, that I would always love her. I whistled our song, prayed that I would not forget, and thanked God that we would one day wake up with Jesus together.

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mama bear

I was all zen leaving church tonight, until this a-hole making a left turn cut us off while we were walking across the street. My surprise turned into a “Yo! Watch it!” and then a “Jackass!” when I realized the offending driver was behind the wheel of a hummer. I screamed at the dude because for a second, I felt totally vulnerable to the hurrywarts in the world. I felt every fear that my kid is going to be snatched from me by a reckless driver or a kidnapper or cancer…and then the fear that by fearing all those things, they’ll come to pass. All the trust I claim and try to put in Jesus flies out the window when mama bear rears her head and I become a foul-mouthed hypocrite.

 

While my indignation still hung in the air on Broad Street, the gas-guzzler rolled by and I saw a kid’s face pressed up against the half-open back window.

 

Fuck.

Lord, have mercy.

 

Mother’s Day

Since Hallmark tells me that it is “Mother’s Day,” I started to think about Mercy Oduyoye’s definition of mothering as “an obligation for all in any community whether then are women or men. It is doing to others what God does to, with, and for us out of God’s compassion” (Introducing African Women’s Theology, 38).

Think about this: how are mothers idealized? Giving much, taking more; creating and nurturing welcoming spaces; divine Marys, listening and responding in trust to the voice of God; showing divine love in a broken world, capable of enduring the pain of seeing the child of your womb nailed to a cross. This description of motherhood reflects Oduyoye’s overall vision of humanity as reciprocity, hospitality, response to God, and reflection of the divine. We expect this of mothers, but what would happen if we did not require women to bear this impossible, Messianic burden? What if little boys and little girls were both raised as nurturers and protectors? Perhaps humanity is so very broken in part because we have created a deep chasm between culturally gendered people. If we put our love and little pink dollies and EZ-Bake ovens and G.I. Joe toys and baseballs and bicycles into that chasm, maybe we can meet one another in the middle and create new expectations of human engagement with one another.