Today I got a call on my pager, 15 minutes before I was going to leave the hospital to teach downtown. Calling the ward desk, I was told that a patient wanted to see me. Could it wait till tomorrow, I inquired? No, it was urgent, was the response. OK, then, I headed downstairs right away.
The nurse let me to the patient’s room. He was quite upset to be stuck in the hospital. I asked him what he wanted to talk about, and it turned out he didn’t want to talk about anything. He wanted me to feed his cat.
It turns out that this unfortunate gentleman really has nobody here in the city to help him, and by now his cat was 4 or 5 days without food. He did not remember the number of the superintentant of his building, either, so he had nobody to call. Could I head over to his apartment and explain things to the super, and maybe be let in to feed that cat?
Well, this sure wasn’t part of the job description. Running through my head were the words of advice I had received time and time again: “Don’t try and rescue everybody out there! You have to distinguish between what is essential, and what is merely important! There is only one Saviour, and you are not him!”
But on the other hand, this situation involved a starving cat. And I’m a cat person, so I felt for the poor thing.
So I said ok, with a rolling of my eyes towards the Lord, who by now (I am sure) was having another one of his divine belly laughs. I mean, first the bird, now a cat. I’m really making my way up the food chain!
Things, it turned out, were not as simple as all that. The super is new there, just recently moved to Canada from Romania, and he could not find the proper key. So it was back to the hospital to get the key (and permission to use it, witnessed by a staff member), until I finally managed to get in the door and feed the poor cat. Boy, was he happy to see me!
It turns out that there is actually a deeper lesson in all of this. At one point, as I was heading back to the hospital, I asked the Lord what the point of all this was. And the Lord answered, in one of those moments of clarity that you just know is a divine response. “Tom,” He said, “if I had asked you to do something extravagently important for this man, something heroic, you would have done it without question. Yet now, when I ask you to merely show him a very simple kindness, you are full of doubts and questions and annoyance. Does that make sense?”
“He who is faithful in small things shows himself worthy to be trusted with greater things. It’s not the big things that count, but the little things, done with great love.”
So I fed his pet, and even pet it for awhile. I also took care of a couple of other things for the man (returned some rented DVD’s, etc.) Tomorrow I will see him again, and I’ll talk with the doctor/social worker/whoever about the need to help him put some structure in his life. I know I can’t take all this on as some sort of long-term responsibility — but in the meantime, I can at least feed the cat.