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Observations: A test of faith?

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image Emma and me. Michelle Traphagen Photo

My faith may be shaken but apparently I still have hope.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

I can whine a lot. I can wax on melodramatically about this and that, the good old days, things I should have done and so on, but I seem to have problems just enjoying the now. Sometimes there is a reason for that.

Florida can be a nut farm. When something truly bizarre happens in other states, people always seem to be surprised that it didn’t happen in Florida. Or, perhaps, it already had happened, except even weirder. Florida is a paradise to visit but it can sometimes be a very difficult place to live. 

And just when I’m ready to write off Florida, along comes Robert.

I love old sports cars but in the heat of the summer, nothing can beat the arctic-cold air conditioning of my old Ford Ranger. The truck has had a long and hard life but it keeps on going. At least it did until we stopped by SweetBay in Ruskin on the Fourth of July to pick up some snacks. We loaded our groceries into the cramped cab, started it up (with the arctic-cold A/C blasting) and...nothing. It wouldn’t move. The shifter just flopped around uselessly. That’s how we met Robert.

I was enjoying nothing about the “now” as our insurance company told us our wonderful roadside assistance package didn’t cover our old truck. It was a holiday, and I was wondering who would come out to tow us to a mechanic?  And worse, how much would it cost?

Michelle called SunPoint Automotive and Towing in Ruskin and before long, Robert pulled up in a big truck. I told him the transmission lever was flopping around but that it seemed to be stuck in park so it would have to be towed from the back since the rear wheels were locked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Robert said. “I’ll just follow you there.”

And with that, he crawled under the truck sitting in a rain-soaked parking lot and told me to keep my foot on the brake. Within a moment, I felt the truck shift into drive. We were mobile again and, as promised, he followed us to the auto repair center. He then crawled under the truck again and shifted it into park.

Robert noticed the groceries we had in the cab and asked, “So how are you getting home?”

We told him that we lived only a few miles away and thought we’d walk.

“Hop in,” he said.

When it came time to pay the bill, Robert refused. “I didn’t tow you,” he said. We had to force some bills into his hand and he drove away from our house with our profuse thanks and my spirits dramatically lifted. There really are good people here, and this community is made better because of Robert. That involves more than saving a few bucks; it is a priceless uplifting of the spirit.

When we got home, I could feel something was wrong in the house. My cat and best buddy, Emma, was missing. 

She likes to go outside, mostly to sit on the top of the stairs at the front door to snooze or chirp at the birds and squirrels. I only let her out for short periods and she would rarely leave the yard. She isn’t young but there is something timeless about her. I’ve had so many conversations with her over the years, and she would actually talk back — or sometimes just look at me with her emerald green eyes and rub her face against mine. Emma convinced me long ago that cats could have deep empathy.

And now she is gone. We walked the streets of our neighborhood, searching the gullies and putting up signs. We talked to the neighbors and the guests at the resort across the street. There was no trace of her. In the middle of the day, she simply vanished. I am heartbroken in ways that far exceed my limited ability to describe it. For those who may think, “It’s just a cat,” I won’t try to explain it, but I know there are many who can understand.

I ‘get’ things like starvation in Somalia. That is an immense human problem, and it is something that humans who believe and have faith should work to resolve. It is our responsibility to do better for the weakest among us. We most certainly can do better. But in this world, it seems the meek are exploited by those who are oh-so-successful at greed. The meek are shouted down in anger by those who want more for themselves. Where is God in all of that?  Perhaps He is being shouted down as well.

Last week a 13-year-old girl disappeared from Ruskin. On Saturday, two 16-year-old girls were killed in the jetliner that crashed in San Francisco. Many of the survivors credited divine intervention for their miraculous escape from the crash.

Okay, but does that mean that God had something against the two young girls who perished? I don’t think so.

Emma. Mitch Traphagen PhotoWhen we left for that quick errand, I had assumed Emma was inside the house. I’ve prayed hard but she hasn’t magically appeared, and I haven’t heard an answer. Why does everything have to be so mysterious? For those who have suffered, most far more than me, parables can wear thin. Free will? Okay, I know that God won’t put a neon sign in the sky, but where’s the harm in helping a little cat? Or in holding two 16-year-old girls in a celestial hand when a plane crashes?

Some might also chalk things up to a test of faith. Really? Like an omnipotent grandfather-like figure sitting on high with all of the answers throwing random and painful tests our way? I can’t accept that.

And what about a little cat? I’m not exactly asking to part the Red Sea here. If this is a test of faith, it is a horrible test. I can’t believe that it is. 

Reverend David Looney once wisely said that too many people think of God as an errand boy, expecting favor and fortune for all manners of things. I’ve tried not to think that way, instead offering thanks for what I have, asking for help for those less fortunate and often asking for help on the many things over the past years I’ve not always been convinced I could handle on my own.

I am sick that something horrible may have happened, that Emma was hurt and alone and I wasn’t there to help. It’s been days now and there is still no sign of her. She enjoyed being tucked into bed at night even more than she enjoyed chirping at squirrels. I know that if she could come home, she would. I wonder if my silent words are just a monologue, but in the end, I know the responsibility was mine and praying can’t change that. In the end, God blessed me with her, entrusted me, and any failure was mine.

My faith has been shaken from so many difficult events over the past year, by the hole now in my heart left by my little buddy Emma, and by so much horror in the world from wars and carnage to murders and mayhem. Despite wishes to the contrary, I know that God isn’t my errand boy and that, by and large, He has given us the tools to solve problems. It is my responsibility to use those tools rather than simply whine about things.

Having free will suggests that God is okay with us questioning faith, because I can’t imagine that God wants a flock of blind sheep. Most likely my faith will eventually emerge stronger but I wish the circumstances weren’t always so damn painful. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Emma is supposed to be here. She’s just an innocent cat. She is my friend.

My faith may be shaken but apparently I still have hope. Why else would I go to the door every 20 minutes to see if she’s there?

In the meantime, I’ve prayed for the families of the two young girls, for the family who has since found their missing daughter, and for Emma to come home. Is that hypocritical? Of course it is, but I’m only human. A heartbroken human. At least I know there are good souls out there. I have Robert and many of you to thank for that. I will try to remember that when I run to the door upon waking tomorrow morning, hoping that Emma will be there. I’ll try harder when, most likely, I slowly close the door again.

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