Goodbye, Matilda


We were just finishing our Friday walk when Lisa hesitantly told me: “Um, I’m taking Matilda to the vet this morning and . . . she won’t be coming home.”

I had known this was coming, but I couldn’t help feeling bereft as she shared the news. I had pretty much adopted the life philosophy of: “Well, it’s Lisa’s cat.” (And definitely her litter box.) But as we got back to the house, I saw Matilda padding from one room to the other, and it hit me hard that in a few hours, this fragile ball of fur would be gone. A life that was part of the sunshine of our home for fourteen years would be gone. I tried awkwardly to pet her a bit, but after a couple of strokes, she gave me the familiar haughty look and eased into the shadows behind the guest bed.

Later, Lisa was heading to work and I went out to the garage to see her off. Then I saw the cat carrier with Matilda inside, as she and Lisa took their last ride together. And I just lost it. I’m a strapping 60-year-old man, but as I crouched next to our kitty and tried to say goodbye, things got very, very damp. At 9:30 that morning, I was taking notes in a college meeting, when I remembered that Lisa was at the vet’s, protectively cradling our pet in her lap, and then going out to her little Mazda and bursting into tears, sobbing against the steering wheel . . . and all I could do was swallow hard and murmur a prayer.

So it has been a tender weekend for us. And I think about something Jesus once said. “My friends, you are worth much more, but even a sparrow never falls to the ground without my Father knowing about it.” Is that really true? Is it possible that the God who oversees the entire universe, the far-flung galaxies, was aware of our kitty’s last breath before twilight and her much-deserved sleep? Or is Matthew just stretching a heart-tugging Hallmark metaphor?

I’m convinced that not only does God know about sparrows and kittens, He cares deeply. If anything about our heavenly Dad is real, it is the INFINITY of His awareness and compassion. My daughter Karli, whose math Ph.D. in the field of trace forms of abelian functions has permitted her to wade just a little more deeply than I into the ocean of mathematical mysteries, told me about a computer that has discovered the largest prime number so far. (There are many more yet to be explored.) This one takes, oh, a mere 2,500 pages just to print out. Does God know that number by heart? And the ones far beyond? Of course. Does He know how many grains of sand there are on the world’s beaches and how many constellations there are in the billions of galaxies out there? Has He shaped and named and loved and protected every dog and cat and canary to come into His domain? No question, no problem. A. W. Tozer once wrote that “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters.”

However, effortlessly does not mean emotionlessly. I understand Jesus’ testimony about His Father’s care to mean that God not only sees when the sparrow falls, but He winces with the reality of what sin costs in our world, and tenderly reaches down and smooths that sparrow’s feathers, cocooning that lifeless form on the sidewalk. “It’s okay, Sammy,” He murmurs. “You were My good little birdie and I love you. Now sleep well.” Our fragile friend Matilda is gone from our home but not from our Father’s heart.

I realize that she was just a cat, but this hymn addresses our grief over our farewells both great and small:

Does Jesus care when I’ve said goodbye

To the dearest on earth to me

And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks

Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares

His heart is touched with my grief

When the days are weary, the long nights dreary

I know my Savior cares

Good night, sweet kitty.


About David B. Smith

I'm a math professor at San Bernardino Valley College - awesome place! - and author of adult Christian fiction. Lisa and I have two grown daughters and four grandkids.
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