His Reason for Visiting
by Ruby Bayan
My friend and I sat on the floor leafing through a dusty stack of family albums. Mark wanted us to pick out a few interesting photos to scan and post on his new website. We went over the albums like we were viewing the stills of a home movie as each of the three kids came into the world and grew to be the young adults they are now.
The snapshots of birthdays, graduations, travels, and holiday festivities immortalized the memories of faces, places, and occasions that Mark's family encountered through the years.
The photos showed that the kids had been fond of dogs. Various breeds and sizes of dogs showed up in many pages of the albums. But what struck me, as I scrutinized the photos one by one, was a black-and-white furry cat that obviously became an important member of the family. He sat with the children on what must have been a memorable Halloween because he was dressed in a colorful clown costume and you could almost detect a smile between his whiskers.
"You had cats?" I asked candidly.
"A cat. We had one cat. Harry."
Harry appeared in a couple of Christmas family photos, posing as elegantly as the rest of the family. He frolicked for the kids in several snapshots of them having fun in the backyard. He sneaked in just in time to join a group picture of the family opening presents beside the Christmas tree. And in one of the kids' albums, Harry actually had a dedicated section -- a pictorial.
"Harry must've been special to Michelle. She has a pictorial of him here." I became curious because I grew up with cats and I know the kind of impact they can have on people.
"Oh, yes, Michelle was particularly fond of Harry. Well, all of us were. Let's take a break and I'll tell you how Harry came into our lives." Mark helped me off the floor and led me to the kitchen.
While waiting for the coffee to brew, Mark shared a remarkable story.
Their family had just relocated from across the country and the transition was extremely tough, especially for the kids. Adjusting to new schools, starting new friendships, and coping with each other's transition anxieties stressed everyone to breaking point. Mark and his wife bickered over their new jobs and responsibilities, and the kids resented having to witness the growing animosity. They were all getting on each other's nerves. The family was falling apart.
Mark remembered how, that one Christmas Eve when they were hardly on speaking terms, he had to coerce everyone, to dress up and attend mass -- to be together as a family even for just one day of the year.
After the mass, as they all quietly hopped into the van to drive home, a curious thing happened -- a black-and-white stray cat hopped in, too.
They tried to shoo him away, and coached him out of the van, but the cat had found himself a nice corner behind the back seats. Mark looked around to see if someone would come looking for a missing cat, but all the churchgoers were busy greeting one another and rushing home to celebrate Christmas Eve.
"Let's go, Dad! Let's just keep him. He wants to come home with us!" It's seemed like a long while since Mark heard his three kids agree on something. He wasn't about to disappoint them, so he drove home.
Excited, the children focused on their new friend. The cat's well-groomed longish fur inspired them to name him "Hairy" (which later became "Harry"). Harry stayed with the family through the holiday season. For a stray, he looked relaxed, so at-home, and unmistakably an instant member of the family. He had his friendly and loving way with everyone -- and everyone loved him back.
"We don't know who really owns him, or where his real home is, so, if he suddenly disappears, don't be heartbroken, okay?" Mark warned his kids who had truly grown very fond of Harry and his charming and cuddly feline antics.
The kids took turns feeding Harry, cleaning out the litter, and brushing his fur. They enjoyed sharing the responsibilities of taking care of their precious pet. Sometimes they'd toss a coin to see who would keep Harry in his or her room for the night. And because the kids got along better, Mark and his wife relaxed and sorted out their differences. Harry had actually brought the family together again.
"That's the story about Harry," Mark concluded, as we walked back to the pile of albums.
"Wait! That's it?" I wanted to know more. "So, how long did you have Harry?"
Mark smiled, "Ah, that's the mystery there. We found him, or should I say he found us, at the Church on Christmas Eve. Three years later, also around Christmas time, he disappeared -- just as mysteriously as he appeared in our lives. I guess when he had accomplished his mission with our family, he had to move on to help another."
"Is this for real?" I wasn't sure I wanted to believe him. Mark sat back on the floor among the photo albums and smiled.
"Oh, yes, it's for real," he stressed, pointing at more pictures of Harry taking active part in a lot of activities they enjoyed as a family.
"We will always be thankful for Harry's short visit. He came to our lives to bring our family back together. He's out there, somewhere, bringing kids and parents back together. It may sound incredible, but yes, it's for real."
[First published in "Their Mysterious Ways" edited by Phyllis Hobe for Guideposts Books, 2002; also published in "Angels in Disguise" edited by Phyllis Hobe for Guideposts Books, 2009]