I just came in from relaxing on the deck while Smoky napped on my lap. He is my wife's pet - given to her by a cousin. He is our first neutered pet - a big old shiny, spoiled, fat and misshapen hunk of a blue-gray former tomcat. We got him when the afore-mentioned relative tired of his clinging, dependent ways. The poor guy doesn't know he's a cat.
Here in the backwater of the old agrarian Southland, everybody and everything has a role. Children are (or were, in the past generations) adults to be, who had definite roles in the economy. We were choppers of cotton, pickers of potato bugs and cutworms, gatherers of eggs, carriers of firewood, drawers of water, and pickers of cotton. We were not the darlings of the adult eye, waiting to be indulged.
Likewise, we had no pets. We had cats, whose job it was to keep vermin under control in the barns and around the house. We had dogs, whose job it was to keep varmints out of the garden and truck patch, notify Mother when strangers approached, and to seek out game when we came out the back door with rifle or shotgun in the crook of the arm. There was nobody or no one whose job it was to take up space, eat food and be underfoot.
The dogs and cats most prized were those most fit to reproduce. The dog who was able to send the visiting, snuffling canine on his way with tail tucked between his legs, or the tom who claimed conjugal rights to all resident tabbies, rights enforced by tooth and claw, these were an aristocracy of merit. It occurs to me as I stroke Smoky, that he is an alien life form - corpulent, lethargic, a threat to none other than the bullfrogs in the goldfish pond. He is bullied unmercifully, not only by marauding toms, but by sow cats and yearling kittens. He has no ambition, no hope for posterity. He wants only a meal and a sheltering lap.
The heretical and unsettling thought crosses my mind, as I sit here on this golden day, playing hooky from church. The role of a neutered pet is strikingly similar to that of a Christian. Retired from the struggles of life, giving up claim to self, basking in the attention of one who deprived us of the essence of our being for the privilege of His favor ...
Maybe that explains the charm of competitive sports for church people. I remember being invited to address the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I declined. They insisted. I relented.
"Christian athlete," I began. "What an interesting concept. Two incompatible ideals melded into one mythological construct."
Wonder why I was never invited back?
I've always been puzzled by the paradox. The meek church deacon becomes a wicked partisan on Saturday afternoon. He wants blood - metaphorically speaking, and is apparently aroused when the opposition's quarterback is crumpled on the turf. Is it vicarious satisfaction?
We give up a lot of the essence of humanity when we elect to follow the Carpenter of Galilee. The right to defend home and hearth has been part of civilization from time immemorial, but we must become sensitive males - willing to allow our spouses the privilege of usurping our traditional roles. We bite our tongues as the wife advises the boy to not fight back, to tell the teacher on the bully. "Sucker punch him," we want to scream. When we realize some SOB at work is coming on to the wife, we ply her with flowers and candy, rather than kicking his tail. What price redemption?
Hmm. Wonder if the Almighty finds our devotion and presence as unsatisfying as I find Smoky?
Community columnist Sonny Scott lives in the Sparta community in Chickasaw County. Contact him at email@example.com.