She was a seven-month-old cheetah cub when she died. I’d never actually met her, face to face, fingertips to fur. But I’d logged countless hours on the computer watching her and her four siblings grow up in front of a webcam. They made their camera debut at four weeks old, on my birthday. I sat glued to my computer in a beautiful resort where my husband had taken me to celebrate. I couldn’t pull myself away from the webcam scene!
Those little cheetah cubs were so cute, and I called them my kittens! They were the miracle cubs that the Metro Richmond Zoo bred and thousands of viewers like me doted on their every move! We worried about them if something didn’t look quite right, and probably drove the real zoo people crazy with our obsessions posted on Facebook, of course! I remember worrying more than once because the mother cat kept pacing with a little one in her mouth, swinging back and forth, back and forth for several minutes. I was sure the mother was going to kill the poor baby. Of course she didn’t. She knew what she was doing, but I just wanted her to put the baby down and let it sleep.
Months passed and the cheetah cam was shut down a few days before the charming family moved to their new public location. Like other people smitten with these creatures, I hardly knew what to do with myself when the camera went dark. I had drunk my morning coffee with these cats for months, and checked in on their mealtimes as often as I could. Sometimes in the evening, I watched them sleep. It was better than any show on TV! I never tired of the view! I still catch myself missing them some days and wishing the camera was still on.
Actually, I did see Hannah once in real life, from a distance. It was the day she and her mom and litter mates went on display after they moved from the breeding center to their permanent zoo home. It was their first day before their adoring crowds and I had a morning commitment so I didn’t arrive until about 3 PM. Most visitors were gone by then, but she and the little furry family frolicked, and mostly rested, near the back fence of the large compound. Thus, I saw them only from a distant hazy view through the chain link fence that kept them safe.
I took a bunch of pictures with my phone and even rode the sky lift that passed over the corner of their enclosure. There I got an unobstructed view of them, but sill far away. I regretted that I did not bring a camera with a telephoto lens. But I had been so eager to see them that I forgot all about cameras and such.
Then a few weeks ago, I was awakened to this morning news: “Hannah, one of two female cheetah cubs, was found dead …” The announcer continued with the details known at that time, but I was numb, heartbroken. I cried. I cried for a little animal that was not mine, dead much younger than she should have been in a protected environment. And as I learned long ago, tears of grief are often not just for the creature – or human—who has passed that moment, but for all the tears of all the years, losses that by our definition of time and events should not have happened. But they do happen in a broken world. I also cried for a little boy killed in our town around that same time; a child I did not know personally, a child senselessly killed – aren’t all children’s murders senseless? I cried because a friend had just that week tried to save an orphaned nest of baby birds. The hatchlings died while he hand fed and waited for a wildlife rescuer to take them. I grieved for dear ones gone, remembered, loved. Heartbreaks on a crippled planet.
And so, I turned to an old Bible I’ve had since the seventies. Inside the front cover, I had pasted a poem clipped from a magazine. It was written by Amy Carmichael, a missionary and writer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She worked with rescued temple prostitute children in India. Her poem spoke to me in 1977, and it speaks to me today when grief is heavy and death and pain stun and sting. She wrote:
……….Because of little children soiled,
……….And disinherited, despoiled,
Because of hurt things, feathered, furred,
……….Tormented beast, imprisoned bird,
……….Because of many-folded grief,
……….Beyond redress, beyond belief,
……….Because the word is true that saith,
……….The whole creation travaileth—
Of all our prayers this is the sum:
“O come, Lord Jesus, come.”
I read the poem aloud for Hannah, and the baby birds who no longer chirp, and the little boy who will not run and play on earth this summer. I read the poem for all my loved ones gone too soon. And I read the poem for me.
“Oh come, Lord Jesus, come.”