We first met over a cat. Four cats, to be precise, darling little mewling things with a sign that said “Free.” I fell instantly in love with them. We were at an autumn barn social, as I recall, where we bobbed for apples and ladled cider out of a brand new toilet (whose idea was that?!). And you, another 12-year-old with curly-wild hair and oversized glasses, brought four kittens to give away.
If my dad has told this story once, he’s told it a hundred times. I came to him, my eyes shining. “Dad! There are kittens! And they’re free!”
He smiled, sort of. The smile may have been rather pained. “Remind me again how many cats we have already?”
“Eight,” I confessed. “But they’re all grown up.”
“And these will be too,” he said. “In a few months.”
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “If you can get someone to take one of our cats, you can have a kitten.”
I thought it a surprisingly low bar. I am not an aggressive saleswoman, but within minutes I had found a lady who said “Well, we were thinking of getting a barn cat to keep the mice down. Do you have a male?”
Yes, and I knew just which one I could part with—a plain and non-personalitied tom. So I got my wish: a white and orange puffball of my very own. I was radiant. You and I talked cats a while that night, and found we understood each other. You even came to visit me and see how Butterscotch was getting along. And I think you were as devastated as I was when he died an untimely death.
Later, you invited me to your piano recital, a Christmas party where we ate and played silly games and got stuck on icy roads. That was fun.
The point is, I’d lost track of you until my sister moved to your part of Virginia. There you were, all grown up; married; two kids.
And then one winter, when the worst fog of my depression had settled over me and threatened not to lift, I heard that you had cancer. A horrifying cancer, growing fast. I am ashamed to confess this, but I envied you. I was sick too, Naomi, deep in my mind—and I envied you your ticket out of this world.
But you? You were a fighter. You lost your unborn son to that cancer and you lost your hair and your health and your future, but you fought like a Samurai. People around you knew you were losing, but you had a few more tricks up your sleeve. Even at the end, you spoke of ice packs and Vitamin C and nutritional supplements. You laughed till you coughed and you made us laugh with you and almost the last words I remember you saying, when the doctor sent you home for the last time, were “He thinks I’m dying but I think I’m not.”
In this I envy you still: you knew that cancer is not a Thing That’s Meant To Be, and you pulled from deep internal sources and gave it a run for its money. Last week I heard it won, and my heart broke. It backed you into a corner and took away weapon after weapon and treasure after treasure and forced your earthly life from your hand, but in the end I think you smiled—because in the corner behind you there opened a door of glorious light. And you were the one to deliver the fatal blow: cancer died and you passed through the doorway. You won.
I join you in fighting the evils of a broken world. Cancer is not Meant, nor starvation nor incest nor abortion nor betrayal, and we fight these things if they cost us our lives. That’s because the God who allows them will take the things of slime and horror and turn them on their heads. All things are Meant—or will be by the time He’s done with them. (Genesis 50:20) The earth is good, and worth fighting for. You learned this before I did, but I get it now. I don’t envy you your ticket anymore.
I wish I could see you for just a moment. I hope He gave you back a double portion of that wild-curly hair. I hope you’re loving on that baby boy. I hope you’re looking into the eyes of Jesus and seeing the Answer.
If I can find a kitten this time of year, I’m going to get one, and keep it for you for old times’ sake. I will name it after you: Free.
Tell Jesus I love Him but there are a few things I need to have explained, someday.
Please join me in praying for the family and friends of Naomi Schrock in Catlett, VA.