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A Paw Print to Rule Them All

After my dear 8 year-old cat passed away in September, we made arrangements to have her cremated. Considering what she meant to us, and still under the shock of her loss, we wanted it to be a private cremation where we could be present. After much research, my wife found a pet crematorium run by a lovely couple located on a large wooded property well outside the city. That was perfect.

The day of the cremation, it was raining. We were allowed to take our time saying our last goodbyes and we were able to place her ourselves into the crematorium. It was surreal. It didn’t seem possible to me that she was gone. While we waited, we took a walk on a trail that they had through the woods. Being surrounded by nature was soothing, even though it rained a little bit.

On our way back, we walked without hurry on the gravel path to the house. And there, among thousands of other ordinary rocks, I spotted one. It was flat, round, about 3/4 inch wide. On its face, a pattern was drawn. One medium circle with four smaller ones arranged in a fan around it. Clear as day, a perfect paw print.

I stopped walking, staring at it. I stood there trying to understand what I was seeing. My wife had seen it too. Out of a million rocks, we were both struck by the same one. And before either of us could formulate any coherent words, she instinctively reached down. She barely touched it, but in an instant the image smeared. Rain drops. The tip of her fingers had released the surface tension that held the manifestation in place, causing all the drops to combine and spread. And now it was just another wet rock.

It’s only then that we looked at each other and realized we had both witnessed the same thing. As perfect and implausible as it seemed, for us it meant something. Our precious darling was OK.

I believe in facts and science. But I also believe that we interpret the world the way that we need to in order to make sense of it. Not all that exists needs to be explained rationally. Not everything that happens has to make sense. That day, five rain drops fell from high up in the sky and landed in a perfect artwork on a single rock. We shared a moment that was real and that made us feel more at peace.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. My wife was acting a little strange. As I walked into our bedroom, she was following me closely. And there on the bed was the sweetest little kitten, seemingly only a couple months old. Instantly my heart melted at the sight of this little bundle of fur staring at me with her big round eyes. Inside I worried, was I ready for this, after such a difficult loss?

That’s when my wife revealed how she had found this kitten. And more specifically when she was born: the same day we had cremated our other cat.

She hadn’t looked for a litter born on that date but there it was when she visited the breeder’s web site. She went to see them and she said she knew. As she related all this, we both remembered that improbable paw print on that rock among a million others. Some things just don’t need an explanation.

That night our new kitten fell asleep in my arms. She instantly became my companion and has since been following me around everywhere. She’s laying down right next to me as I write this. And you know, I’m a rational person but let me tell you this.

I lost many cats over the years who meant a lot to me. And in this kitten I keep seeing traits from all the other ones. We see her do something, and anyone in the household can instantly tell you which of our previous cats that comes from. It can be a pose she takes, a sound she makes, a habit she has. She’s only three months old but seems aware and smart way beyond that.

I am acutely aware that we sometimes see what we want to see. But that paw print, it will always mean something to me. The pain I felt losing my orange fire was devastating. And somehow she knew that. I thought that paw print meant she was OK, when really, now I know it was her making sure that I’m going to be OK.

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