The cats had been waiting for us, it seemed: they had arranged themselves right by the front door so that we would trip over them when we entered.
Were you good boys for Tony? I asked. It was a meaningless question, really: the feline moral vision differs so profoundly from our own. I had already learned that they had slept with our houseguest, who also took the services at St. James while we were at the Convocation convention in Waterloo. He was kind enough to say that he had enjoyed their company.
The cats take their rectory duties seriously. There is the matter of chasing the sacristan's cat away when he ventures inside our house, something he always tries to do. Ben must cross the courtyard to secure the church at night, and he attended part of a vestry meeting last week during the property report, startling all of us with a series of mournful quacks outside the heavy closed door. I myself was surprised to see him, and half wondered if my husband had come to some grief in the house and sent Ben to get help. But I soon gave up that morbid fantasy. Cats aren't like that.
I was thinking of them on the plane home, eager to see them. I found myself imagining this house, the beautiful old table in the entrance hallway, the couches in the living room. The silly little electric flame in the fireplace, which I have christened "the roaring fire" -- even though it's electric and very small, putting out hardly anything in the way of actual heat, it really does warm both the heart and the conversation to sit before it. On the bus back into town from the airport, Florence's narrow streets and narrow houses, its cafes, its shuttered tobacconists' shops all looked good to me.
I went on to another house in my imagination, our house back in the U.S. I am in the bedroom, up in the wee hours of the morning, putting on my robe and walking carefully down the stairs to the kitchen. I am putting the tea kettle on and going out through the front garden to get the Times from the sidewalk. I wonder about the garden; it's probably a little wild by now. There will be a lot to do when we get home.
There's that word, again: home. I sleep outside, a Sri Lankan man here in Florence tells me, and those three mournful words hang between us. I have a home, and he does not. I have two homes, in fact: one here and another one waiting for me across the sea. I have lots of room. Not everyone can say that. I sleep outside, he says. He does have a home, actually; it's in Sri Lanka, where his family is. Where his youngest daughter waits to marry until her father can supply a proper dowry. Where there is no work. He needs a job, so he can go home and fulfill his obligation. I ponder his need and my abundance. I have been pondering this for all the decades of my ordained ministry. Once in a while, I've been able to do something about it. Often, I have not. Maybe this time, too. Or maybe not.
But maybe so. There is no end to the need. It is beyond my ability to count. But each one is only one. How do you manage to help all those people, somebody asked Mother Teresa once. How do you do it?
One by one by one, she said. Which, come to think of it, is the way we do anything we do. One by one by one.
In the New York area? You'll want to join us on November 3rd from 6-8 pm for the St. James cocktail party at the home of Mr.and Mrs. George Fowlkes. It will be my only New York appearance this winter, and will benefit St. James' ministry in Florence. Please respond to Christina Caughlan at email@example.com for further information about the benefit.