Having closed on the purchase of our little house in the Hudson Valley, my husband Werner and I set about making it a home. Our first stop was the furniture store. Our second stop was the Animal Rescue Foundation in Beacon, where we adopted our dog, Spotless. And our third stop was the Ulster County SPCA, where we found a tiny handful of fur that we named Eartha Kitten.
Now Spotless was a sweet, gentle, lovable creature, one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs. Eartha, on the other hand, was an ornery spit of a cat, whom we adored for always being exactly herself. And when she finally breathed her last a few springs ago, at the ripe old age of twenty-one-and-a-half, I found a sunny spot on the west side of our yard, and began that final labor of love: digging her resting place.
It was brutally hot and humid that May afternoon, and the ground was typical of the region – rocky and full of clay, making each shovelful an effort. Sweat poured off my face, and less-than-holy things poured from my mouth. Then, for some reason, I remembered something I’d read years before, about a woman who decided to give thanks for one thing upon rising each day. On day one, she began by giving thanks for her bed. But then, as she allowed the idea to unfold in her mind, she found herself, long after, still giving thanks: for the trees that gave the wood for the headboard, for the farm workers who raised the cotton that covered the mattress, and so on.
I decided to follow her lead, and began to give thanks for Eartha Kitten. I gave thanks for the SPCA volunteers who first took her in, and for the staff at the animal hospital, who had watched over her health at great personal peril, often donning falconer’s gloves to handle the difficult patient. I gave thanks for all the fish, and for the fishermen who caught all the fish that found their way into the nearly 8,000 cans of food she’d eaten over the years. I gave thanks for the sun that warmed her favorite sleeping spots, and for the God who set it amid the countless stars. For the fact that I have a piece of property in which she might be laid to rest, and for a body strong enough to dig that hole. Eartha was just a little, ornery cat – and yet, with my mind tuned to gratitude, I saw that there was blessing upon blessing associated with her life.
Is there a more transformative spiritual practice than gratitude? It has the power to turn sweat into offering, and grave-digging into prayer.
The Rev. Luanne Panarotti serves as pastor of Pleasant Plains Presbyterian Church in Staatsburg, NY. She is grateful for her family, furry and otherwise.