Ode to Bandit (And Beloved Animals Everywhere)

One year ago today, I made the sad announcement that my beloved Bandit had died.

Journal Entry, 2/27/19 AM: “Bandit is not doing well. Please take him, Lord, to end his suffering.”

February 27, 2019. The day was cold, and it was raining hard. Bandit was 14 years old, had lost a lot of weight, and could barely walk. But that morning, while he was outside — he did love to play in the rain — Bandit found the strength to make his way through a fully-fenced backyard in search of a solitary place to die.

When I arrived home from work, the rain was still coming down, as it had been all day. Then, I heard the news. Bandit had not been seen since 10:00 that morning.

It is safe to say that I went into a bit of shock. When I left Bandit that morning, he had spent thirty minutes in my arms. Yes, I had prayed to God for his suffering to end, but I could not have imagined that his taking would be in such a heartbreaking way. When I heard that Bandit was lost, my mind saw him in terrible ways: lying under a bush, alive, cold and soaked, still suffering and near death; dead and covered with the things that crawl from the earth to consume corpses; and worst — dead, in the middle of some nearby street, picked to pieces by crows.

I cried loudly as I rushed through the front and back yards, peering under bushes and cars, calling his name, all to no avail. I tried to pull myself together as I called the City animal shelter and gave Bandit’s description.

My dear neighbors, Tom and Nancy, placed a “Lost Animal” report in NextDoor to get the word out in the area.

Nothing.

Journal Entry, 2/27/19 PM: Love that cat so much. I hope he isn’t suffering. God sent that cat to me during the horrible days of divorce, when I felt lonely and rejected. Bandit was so affectionate from Day One and to the end. I knew the end was near. Still, I wanted him to die in my arms — not alone.

That evening was the first time in decades I had trouble sleeping. Where was Bandit? I assumed he was dead. The worst part of it was not knowing what he had gone through and where he had died. It cut into my heart like a twisting knife.

Journal Entry, 2/28/19 PM: He’s in God’s hands — that’s where. Peace in that, but sad that he’s not here while he’s so old and frail. Strange how things change in a blink. God allowed this bit of tragedy. One of the saddest days of my life. I miss him. I wonder why God took him from me in this way. I want to bury his little body if it’s somewhere outside.

We love our pets like they are members of the family, don’t we?

Bandit had become a star on Facebook, with his feline perfection and ability to give me great joy. I received many comments of condolence. How is it that a human being can be so in love with a creature who can only speak to you with a lick to the face or a paw to the cheek — or a purr as he nestles, for the last time, in your lap, enjoying your hand-strokes across his fur, and looks up at you with complete adoration while you wonder what you did to deserve such unconditional love.

Journal Entry, 3/1/19 PM: SOMEONE FOUND BANDIT!! The Cat and Bird Clinic left a message for me in response to the lost ad. A woman found him Wed AM and took him to the clinic. Thank you, God! Bandit had not been outside very long. The clinic put him on an IV, but he died there on Thursday, 2/28/19. So grateful to God that He led a person to Bandit, and that he was with people dedicated to helping cats specifically. I will never be able to give back to God what He gave me by providing a safe, warm, loving place for my beloved Bandit to die if he couldn’t be with me.

Bandit had been in God’s hands, and I knew that he would be, but this? As I spoke with the clinic, I imagined the expert treatment and care that Bandit received there. What’s more, the woman who found him PAID for the care. I mumbled my thanks through bittersweet tears, and said I would mail a check to reimburse the kind woman.

Bandit was cremated there.

Journal Entry, 3/3/19 AM: Last night I dreamed that Bandit was here, but I was the only one who could see him.

Last week, one of our students came to school in tears. Her pet dog had died, and she was visibly sad the entire day. I was able to speak with her about Bandit and how I was still mourning him a full year after his death. She said, “I’m so sorry,” and I know she completely understood. We consoled each other over the loss of good friends.

During lunch that day, I pulled out my novel and came to the chapter where the family had agreed to keep a lost dog. I was astonished as I read this: “Mma Ramotswe was touched by the sight. There was something particularly appealing, she thought, about children lavishing care on an animal. They were repaying, in a way, the love and care given to them, showing that the message that we should look after one another had not fallen on stony ground. A child who loved a pet was showing the love that would in due course be given to another, and that was a reassurance. Love was like rain: there could be periods of drought when it seemed that love would never return, would never make its presence felt again. In such times, the heart could harden, but then, just as droughts broke, so too could love suddenly appear, and heal just as quickly and completely as rain can heal the parched land.” (From Precious and Grace, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series, #17, by Alexander McCall Smith)

“They were, in a way, repaying the love and care given to them.” As a child of God, I felt as if I was receiving a lesson from Him through this author’s beautiful words. My love for Bandit was another way for me to “repay” the love and care God has given to me. Bandit was a gift, and loving him was thanking the Giver. With that, I shall always remember my beloved Bandit as one who gave me the opportunity to show love for my awesome God.

Journal Entry 3/5/19 AM: I miss Bandit’s presence. A sweet creature to pour love and care into — now I can give that to someone else. Whom shall it be?

Maybe it’s time to “repay” God again in this way. Kitten or adult cat? [Update: I adopted a cat in March 2020, right when COVID hit!]

Children, Cookies, and Frank in Uganda

I was sweeping the front sidewalk when three boys approached me.

“Hi! Would you like to buy a cookie to support Frank?”

Who??

They presented their “Support Frank” flyer. No misspelled words. Good grammar. Neat handwriting. And the boys were so polite and well versed as they told me about Frank and his dire circumstances. They even had a bowl of cookie bites for me to sample before buying. Genius!

“How much?” I asked.

“Well, the price is pretty steep. Two dollars each.”

“That is steep. But I’m not only paying for a cookie, right?”

“Right!”

“I’m paying to support …”

“Frank! Yeah!”

“What are your names?” They told me. “I’m Mrs. McDavid. I live right here, so be sure to stop by and let me know how Frank’s support is going.”

One of the boy was looking at me quizzically. “Hey! I think I know you! From Laguna Blanca!”

He told me his name. Sure enough, I recognized him as a former student. How could I forgot the little redhead? He was visiting his friend who lives in the neighborhood.

We chatted about how things were going for him at his new school. Then, I got an idea.

“I’ll be right back.” I went inside, grabbed some money and my cellphone, and returned to the boys, who were still smiling and waiting patiently for this old lady.

“Can I take a photo of Frank? I want to remember who I’m supporting.”

They thought that was pretty cool.

“Okay, now. Here’s two dollars for my expensive cookie.”

“Thank you” after “Thank you” came freely from the boys. Genuine and appreciative.

“Oh, wait,” I said, and with much drama I pulled a five dollar bill from my pocket. “More for Frank because you boys are so nice!”

That floored them. “Wow!” and “Thank you!” and “Really?”

I was having a thoroughly great time with this, and the boys didn’t seem to mind my silliness as we talked about my money trick. However, it was time to get back to my yard work.

“Goodbye, friends! I’m proud of you! I hope you get a lot of support for Frank!”

They started to leave, but my redhead friend stopped and said, with a hint of concern, “Would you like another cookie for that?”

This time it was I who was floored.

“No, no, no. Keep it all for Frank.”

They waved and left, and I thought about the innocence of youth. Thank God for it.

When I saw the trio headed for a neighbor’s door, I yelled, “Tell them Darla sent you!”


Thumbs up to the parents of these gems! The homemade cookie was delicious, too!

What Moved Me the Most About Hidden Figures Didn’t Happen on the Screen

Hidden Figures poster

The man at the box office appeared unsure when I told him I was the guest of a VIP.

“Hmm. What’s your name?” He checked his list, found my name, and gave me a look that conveyed “Should I know you?”

I played along and gave him my best movie star smile. “I have a friend on her way. Please be sure she is given a seat if I’m inside when she arrives.”

The December day was gorgeous — sunny and warm as usual in this part of the country. As I waited in front of the theater, I noticed a woman staring at me. After an awkward few minutes of smiling at each other, she approached me. I did not recognize her, and my mind started doing that “going through the faces file” thing. Nope. She was not there.

“Hello,” I said. That was as good an icebreaker as I could come up with at the moment. Who is this woman, and why is she looking at me like that? Is it the boots? I shouldn’t have worn the boots. Too casual for a VIP event?

“Hello!” Big smile. “Do you need a ticket? If you’re trying to get in, I can give you a ticket.” Another big smile. It looked almost motherly.

“Uh, no. I’m good.” I did consider telling her that I was Kevin and Christine Costner’s guest, but I decided to keep that little nugget to myself.

We chatted about the movie and our good fortune to attend a private screening before its release. I chose to turn my thoughts away from the initial impression she gave me and tried to enjoy our conversation. “Where is Meredith?!?” did keep popping up in my thoughts, despite my efforts to keep it down.

“Do you know Oprah?” Out of the blue.

I took a deep mental breath. “Personally? No.”

“She lives here, you know.”

My deep breathing may or may not have been audible that time.

We continued with more chit-chat about Oprah, the weather, and other famous people who live in our city.

“I know someone who lived in the South.” Her eyes narrowed and she waited for me to let this sink in.

Uh-oh. Was this woman going to reveal a family secret to me? Cruel slave owners? A lynching? Cousins with mysteriously dark skin?

She continued. “I asked her ‘Do you have maids?’ She said yes! I asked her ‘Did they go inside the house through another door?’ She said yes! I could not believe it!” Her eyes were so wide and her voice was so loud that I completely believed that she could not believe it.

“The movie is about to begin. Please take your seats.” Saved by the announcement, I bid the woman farewell. My friend had not yet arrived, but I was glad for the opportunity to move into a dark theater where I supposed I would not stand out as much as I did outside.

The back row was perfect — my friend could find me easily when she arrived. Her text explained that she had ridden her bicycle across town to the wrong theater — my mistake! — and she was on her way.

I wondered about the life of that woman. Why did she feel the need to share with me the things that she did? I felt sorry for her. She was laying a few of her burdens on me in a way that revealed more about herself than she probably wanted to expose.

Scanning the audience, and comfortable in my seat, I noticed that I was the only black woman in the theater.

Three years ago this month, the story of three women was released as a movie. Hidden Figures introduced the world to Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn — black women who worked as mathematicians for NASA during the Space Race, and used their fantastic minds to put a man into space and on the moon. The movie goes even further to show how these women were pioneers in the areas of racial equality and equal opportunity for black women.

I heard nothing about them while I was growing up during the decades in which these women performed their now-famous work. In school, I loved studying math and science. Yet the only black women that I recall receiving glory from the adults in my community were singers and social activists.

I chose singing.

Finally. I caught sight of my friend entering the theater. She hopped over the back railing to join me. After an introduction from the film festival’s moderator, and a teaser for Kevin Costner’s Q&A after the showing, the movie began.

There was much for me to love about Hidden Figures: Untold history; proof that a PG rating can catch and hold an audience; marriage honored throughout; the excellent acting and captivating storytelling; and, best of all, an ending that left the audience with cheering and uplifted hearts.

The audience rewarded it with a standing ovation, and I was sure that Hidden Figures would be nominated for an Academy Award. “Best Picture” was my hope. It was that good, that entertaining, that educational, that moving.

But something happened while I was watching the movie that is etched in my memory and my heart.

We were at the pivotal scene where Katherine Johnson finally lets her emotions take over to explain why she is away from her desk for long periods. She is at NASA in a room full of white men who have belittled and insulted her day after day.

The movie theater was silent as, through this scene, we all experienced — in one moment, at the same time — the hideous effects of racism.

Then, I heard it. I felt it. I looked to my left.

A older woman sitting next to me was shaking from her silent cry. I saw tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. She looked straight ahead, not once at me.

At that instant, I put aside the fact that I was the black person. I was the one who should be comforted, right?

Instead, I wrapped my arm around her shoulders. We each laid our head against the other’s.

“It’s not like this anymore,” I whispered. “It’s better now.” She did not reply, but that did not bother me.

It is hard to explain my emotions as I saw this woman’s grief. Suffice it to say that I felt a combination of pity, sadness, and love. For a stranger? Yes. For a white stranger? Yes. At a movie on the topic of racism? Yes. My God calls upon me to live this way.

I will never know what thoughts brought such sadness to that woman. She was up from her seat immediately after the credits.

Perhaps it was solely the power of the scene doing what it was designed to do.

Perhaps she remembered a past action which came back with a flood of guilt and regret.

Perhaps she had experienced an injustice herself — against her skin color, in her marriage, within a job position — and this scene was a reminder of a genuine hurt in her life.

Whatever it was, that woman’s silent cry was real, and it moved me. I will always connect her with this movie.

Later, as I remembered the woman I had met earlier in front of the theater, I realized she was crying silently as well, though in a hidden way of her own.

We all have a sad story to share. We all have hearts that can listen and empathize. If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, please find a copy and watch it. Be moved by the story, and then make it your goal to be moved to help the hidden figures in your own life.

Here is the scene that evoked the tears, along with the following scene which shows Al Harrison (Costner’s character) and his reaction to Katherine’s revelation:

Katherine’s reply to Harrison’s question “Where the hell do you go every day?”