I have to admit I was a little surprised to see Chester up here. And alarmed that he was human now. Don't get me wrong. He was the best cat I ever had and while I consider myself to be more open-minded than most believers this took a bit of stretching for me. For his part, Chester was nonplussed. He was still completely himself. Loyal and a little crabby. I had suspected he had a well-developed sense of humor and I was right. The first thing he said to me, after I had gotten over the shock of bumping into my pet cat in Heaven, was: dude you should have seen your mom's face. It was the exact same one she used to make when I coughed up a hair-ball. Well, she did hate you, I smiled; fondly remembering my mother chasing the cat around with a broom in her worn housecoat. As if he could read my mind Chester started rubbing his rear, boy, I'll say. Glad we don't need brooms up here.
Chester had explained to me that he was still my pet, even though he was human now, and that when animals glorified God on Earth they would often get to join their masters for eternity. Since he was just human, and his body was not a resurrected one, he could not partake all that Heaven had to offer. This was a bit saddening, but he often reminded me that after all he could be back to licking himself and coughing up hair-balls in no time. He much preferred this. Normally unresurrected bodies weren't allowed in the story room, but when it was time for me to see his story he was allowed to sit at my side. He of course couldn't see it, but he could watch me which is all he wanted to do anyway.
Now, right after I had realized who Chester was I admit I was a bit sad. For he had just disappeared and I had been holding out hope that he was still alive somewhere and no harm had come to him. Chester had already explained to me how he had heard from God at various points in his life. One time had been when he came to live with me. It was right after my daughter was born and when her colic was raging. We would shuffle out of the house in the wee hours to take her on a walk. Chester had been trotting down the road from his last assignment, for my dear cat seemed to think he was the patron saint of the weary, when he spotted us. He immediately came up to us and started rubbing our legs. At first we were annoyed but almost immediately the baby stopped crying. That was all it took. We scooped the cat up and brought him home. If you ever had a colicky baby you don't need further explanation. If you haven't then hush. I don't like you right now.
Now I say Chester was my cat, but really he was Annabelle's. She adored him. He tolerated her, it seemed, but deep down I knew he loved her too. Her chubby little fingers would reach out and grab fistfuls of fur. She'd squeal in delight and sometimes he'd squeal in pain. Later she would try to ride him like a horsey and he would look up at us pitifully. He confided in me up here that he actually enjoyed that, it worked out his sore back muscles, but he played the pity card to get extra treats. The two were inseparable for three years. Then the most horrifying evening of my life took place.
When my daughter was little we had the good fortune of having the use of a lot of land behind us, that is before it was all flattened out and turned into a cookie-cutter neighborhood. A little creek and some woods were just beyond our backyard and as our little girl got older we let her pal around with some neighborhood kids and 'explore.' So one Saturday afternoon we thought nothing of it when she didn't come home for lunch. (It was a different time, mind you, and her six-year-old cousin was supposed to have been with her). What we didn't know was that her cousin had snuck off with some friends to the mall and left her alone at the creek. Little Belle was scared to cross back over by herself for there had been a few days of heavy rain and the creek's current was quite strong. So she sat and waited and hoped Bobby would come back soon. And she waited. She got hungry. And scared. This is where the story set in. It was so hard to watch my little Annabelle crying. It was also so good to see her and I smiled at the thought of her now, a strong woman who had raised a beautiful family. Seeing her as the little girl was easy though, every day, even my last as she had sat at my side in the hospice room, she had been the little girl in pigtails.
Suddenly Chester appeared. He had heard her cries and had hunted down where she was at. The cat stopped at the other side of the creek and meowed to the little girl. It was as if, for all the world, he was pleading her to just jump over so he didn't have to get wet. She stretched out her little arms, for now she was sobbing and desperate. It had been hours and she was starting to get cold as well as hungry and scared. Chester meowed more intensely and then took off running back the way he came. Poor Annabelle just stared and the started wailing. The story was actually from Chester's point of view though and showed him trying to get my attention. I wanted to whack my own self upside the head. I even remembered when he had come and was trying to get my attention while I was mowing. It was annoying. I shooed him.
A collective sigh let out from the audience as if we were all watching some poor sap stumble out in the dark, alone, while a serial killer awaited and all you can do is scream: you idiot, don't you know you're in a horror movie! Chester just patted my arm, as if to say, it's OK- you big idiot.
After his failed attempt to get help Chester trotted, no sprinted, back to Annabelle. All the while thinking grumpy thoughts about stupid humans only following stupid dogs places. This time he didn't slow as he approached the creek he took a flying leap and landed almost on the other side where Annabelle was. Almost. The poor kitty staggered up the sharp rocks he had landed on completely drenched. He shook himself out and scowled his best, I-hate-being-wet look. Annabelle threw her arms around him and just sighed. Chester let her hold him a long time but then started meowing loudly. After all by now it was almost dark.
Back at the house we had all entered full frenzy mode to find her. We had just about started to do the canvas thing and likely would have found them but we thought she had gone to the mall with Bobby and had only just found out that he had left her down by the creek. My wife had just called me to tell me she was not at the mall and I did a highly illegal u-turn across four lanes of traffic and gunned it for home. It was the first time in my life I was hoping for red and blue lights because that would mean another body to help us find my girl. Bobby had just spit out, in between sobs, that he had left Annabelle and his father had him by the ear out front of the group. "Show us where you left her!" he roared and off we all marched, in a horizontal line behind poor Bobby.
Meanwhile Chester had been encouraging Annabelle to make the jump. She stood on the edge and kept looking down at him as he nudged her with his head. He even backed up a bit and started to run toward the creek as if to show her how. Finally her courage was up and she gave it a go, only to land in the middle. Scarily she started to go under and was sputtering for the water was quite high there. Luckily a few rocks were keeping her from being swept downstream but she was dangerously close to drowning. Chester, like he was channeling Lassie-though he would hate it if you said that, leapt in after her. She tried to cling to him but he was too small to be much help. She grabbed anyway and as he sputtered underneath her it seemed almost like the two of them were going to drown together. Even I was on the edge of my seat and I knew, at least partly, how it ended. This part I didn't know. Chester managed to nudge Annabelle up onto the rock that was keeping her from being swept downstream. She was just barely hanging on to it and her hand reached out to a rock that suddenly gave away. Chester stuck his head where the rock had been and she didn't even realize it was now his head she was pushing against. She shoved off and safely made it onto the rock. Chester was shoved under, and carried off by the current which was too strong for him. Annabelle had leapt down easily from the rock and looked back expecting to see Chester coming after her and he was just gone. When we found her she was sitting crying for Chester.
It was a few more days before we realized Chester was gone and we never knew what had happened. It never occurred to us that Chester was in the creek with her because Annabelle wouldn't talk about it. She never got another cat. As a father I felt so guilty for not being able to protect her and so worried for what could have happened to her. Back then we didn't think too much about sexual predators but we did worry about ones like coyotes. Though I knew now that Chester would have defender her against anything, even a pack of coyotes if that was what protecting her meant.
I hugged Chester and he softly, and cheerfully, said: "you know it didn't hurt. Thankfully my head it a rock and it was all lights out, hello Jesus! I've been watching over you two since then, well, her more than you." He grinned sheepishly.
I titled my head to the side; "I thought cats had nine lives?" Chester nodded. "Well friend, the life I spent with you and Annabelle was my ninth life! And boy am I glad I got to come up here with you two because pet heaven just ain't as cool."
I cocked my head again, wanting to ask about pet heaven but the other thing he said bugged me: "you two?"
"Oh, don't worry, we don't get to know when she is coming up here but we do sort of get a estimate and I've been told it's at least three or four more decades."
"Meow! Er...Sorry. Right. Whew!"
"Thanks for saving my daughter's life."
"She saved mine, for she gave me an opportunity to glorify him."
Over the next several years I started to learn more what worship is as I got to see it through the eyes of an animal. And the deeper, more painful lesson of sacrifice could not have been more aptly told by anyone save the Lord himself. I once asked Chester if he still would have put his head there if he knew that meant he would die. Of course he said, without blinking or hesitating. I was there to serve her anyway.
Just like it is with the years racing by as your children grow up so it is in Heaven and before we knew it the two of us were staring at her bright, beautiful face again. Annabelle needed no explanation who Chester was, she already knew somehow and flung her arms around his neck like she used to. When she saw the story and realized the rock she had pushed off had been him she somehow managed a tear. Chester purred, he sometimes couldn't help it having been a cat for so long, and told her he had never been happier than the moment he got to save her life and give his for hers. For that was the moment he was most like his Lord. She smiled and whispered back that she wished she could one day be half the worshiper Chester is.