So Like a Queen

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

~Rainer Maria Rilke from “Black Cat”

photo by Nate Gibson
photo by Nate Gibson

With the recent loss of Queen Elizabeth II, I must honor a queen of our own here on our farm:

Bobbi was a young calico who arrived on our farm after two years of a luxurious indoor life in town. She couldn’t accompany her physician owner to life in the big city to move in with a cat-allergic boyfriend, so Bobbi arrived to the farm in a van full of her own cat furniture – a climbing tree, a personal chair, toys, and special cuisine. When she strode out of her cat carrier, took a look around and immediately climbed into the nearest real tree, she never looked back at the accoutrements of her former pristine yet restrictive indoor life.  She became Queen of the farm, undisputed and regal, watching the goings-on from a carefully calculated and royal distance, never interacting with her subjects unless it was absolutely necessary.

She tolerated other cats, but barely. They scattered when she came in view.  She thought dogs were a waste of fur covering empty skulls, but when they met her needs, like on a chilly night, she would happily bunk down with them. They were baffled but grateful for her royal blessing when she climbed over their kennel fencing to sleep curled up between them: a two-dog and one-cat night.

She chose only one human to be subject to: our daughter-in-law Tomomi.  On Tomomi’s initial visit from Japan years ago, Bobbi approached her and decided then and there they were meant for each other. During Tomomi’s annual summer visits, Bobbi brought her mice on the welcome mat and followed her like a puppy, coming only when Tomomi called, and deigned to allow her to touch her calico coat.

When she was 16 years old, Bobbi took over the front porch bench throne when our long-lived black cat Jose died.  She preferred a closer view of our comings and goings, seemingly less disdainful and distant.  When two kittens arrived to live in the barn yet within a week formed a coup and took over the front porch, Bobbi retreated again to her other retreats on the farm. I worried a bit that she had given in too easily with no yowls or flying fur.

Still, I was surprised to find her one morning lying still on the grassy slope of our front yard as she was never one to take her naps where her subjects could see her. So I knew her long life of queenly surveillance and service was over.

Long live Queen Bobbi. You remain irreplaceable. May you forever continue to reign in our hearts.

photo by Nate Gibson
Tomomi and Bobbi, photo by Nate Gibson
Original Barnstorming artwork note cards available as a gift to you with a $50 donation to support Barnstorming – information here

Dancing with Grief

The Palace of Holyroodhouse – The Queen’s residence in Edinburgh, Scotland

The missing-ness of it all surfaced again
I asked, “Grief, do you have anything new?”
“No, but you do.”

I suspect this will be our dance
You lead; I age.
~Jordan Sleed “Our Dance”

“Melancholie” sculpture by Albert Gyorgy in Switzerland – photo credit unknown

...my whole life, whether it be short or long, will be devoted to your service.
~Elizabeth in a speech on her 21st birthday

I don’t consider myself a monarchist, nor have I carefully tracked the comings and goings of the British Royal Family over my nearly seventy years of life, being a mere youngster compared to the Queen. But like many others around the world yesterday, I was moved to learn of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, only two days after she held an audience (looking very much alive with her broad smile and signature handbag) with the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Now she has moved on from us, her name and life relegated forever to the history books.

How can I possibly weep and feel grief for the passing of someone I never met, nor could have ever aspired to meet?

This is the strange way of grief — it dances with us throughout our lives, leading us into dark corners we don’t expect to visit. I am grieving for someone who was not born to be queen yet was thrust onto an international stage for 70 years of her life. When she was called to it, she did not shrink from the duty nor did she give up when it became overwhelmingly hard. She made a promise to her people and she delivered on that promise.

I did have an opportunity to speak once with someone who knew the Queen very well and who met with her regularly during her last several decades. He had nothing but great admiration for her character, perseverance, faith and love of family and country.

She was the real deal. And anyone who loves corgis and ponies is exactly my cup of tea.

I believe God welcomed her home with open arms just as He embraces the least of us into His Light – to God, we are all royalty, serving with humility and a duty of honor.

Art by Eleanor Tomlinson
Art by Eleanor Tomlinson

Bring us, O Lord God,
at our last awakening into the house and gate of heav’n:
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light,
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitation of thy glory and dominion,
world without end. Amen.
~John Donne

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She Gazes Back

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At the old Polish gardener’s
There’s a young cat
A calico
Living half-wild
Under the potting shed
Where she was born

Her face is decorated
With daubs and smudges
And streaks of black
As if she were made up to be a clown
In some mysterious carnival

I gaze at her in wonder
She gazes back
With her clear golden eyes.
~Anne Porter “A Village Cat”

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photo by Nate Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

Our stub-tailed calico Bobbie came to live here eleven years ago when her physician owner needed to move out of the area and couldn’t take her along.  She arrived with a van full of cat furniture from her luxurious indoor house cat existence — a cat house, a cat tree, a cat bed, her own large chair and lots of toys.  I gently explained Bobbie would be living the life of an outdoor farm cat from here on, but her stuff was unloaded and after a tearful goodbye, her mom left.

Bobbie took one look around the farm and claimed it as hers, much to the chagrin of several long term resident farm cats and corgi dogs.  She has been the Queen here ever since, greeting any new visitors with royal demeanor and occasionally allowing a stroke of her colorful fur only if it is offered with proper respect and deference.

Her favorite person is our Japanese daughter-in-law, Tomomi, and Bobbie greets her affectionately during her summer visits — no one else is allowed such access to her Royal Highness.

Bobbie, in her uncanny wisdom, knows a quality person when she sees one.

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photo by Nate Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

Bobbie will frequently accompany us on walk-abouts on the farm – oh, excuse me, your Highness, I’ll correct myself — we and the corgis are allowed to accompany her on walk-abouts on the farm.

Just to make sure the corgis understand her ownership of all things, she will enter the dog pen while they are out doing chores with me and then remain until their return, striking terror in their little inferior canine brains as they try to decide whether to re-claim their territory and food bowls — or not. Until she decides it is time to elegantly stroll in a leisurely manner out of their pen, they are stymied with fear and refuse to reenter.

Bobbie has climbed every tree, explored every building including the roofs, and won’t sleep in the same place more than one night in a row.  No surrogate cat house, tree, chair or toys for this cat.

She is the Queen, after all, and when we are fixed under her golden eyed gaze, we aren’t about to forget:  we are her subjects and forever will be.

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photo by Nate Gibson

Between Midnight and Dawn: Having Loved His Own

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Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John 13

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What e’er the soul has felt or suffered long,
Oh, heart! this one thing should not be forgot:
Christ washed the feet of Judas.
~George Marion McClellan
from “The Feet of Judas” in
The Book of American Negro Poetry 1922

As an aide in a rest home caring for the crippled feet of the elderly,
as a medical student in an inner city hospital seeing the homeless whose socks had to be peeled off carefully to avoid pulling off gangrenous toes, as a doctor working with the down and out detox patients from the streets who had no access to soap and water for weeks,

I’ve washed feet as part of my job.

People always protest, just as Peter did when Jesus started to wash his feet.

We never believe our feet,
those homely gnarled bunioned claw-toed calloused parts of us,
deserve that attention.

We are ashamed to have someone care about them, care for them, when we don’t care enough on our own.

I have never washed the feet of someone about to betray me, leading me to my death.

I have never had my feet washed by someone who understood my heart needed cleansing even more than my feet, who loved me that much.

Until now.

This one thing should not be forgot:
Kneeling, He wears the humility and towels of a servant as His only raiments. He gently cups our heels in His palms, washes and dries our soles and arches and toes, as our hearts are held, beating and bejeweled as royalty,  in His loving hands.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn