by Joyce DiPastena
Yes, this is another blog about pets! I wrote it many, many years ago now, but the Easter season brought it to my memory, and so I share it with you today.
Echo was such a cat. That's what I always told him. He was built like an athlete. Long legs, long body, long tail. Everything about him was long. And sleek, with muscles that were sculpted for leaping tall bookshelves in a single bound. Which is exactly what he did, whenever he had an audience to cheer and admire his incredible dexterity. His propensity for jumping from the bookshelf to the pendulum wall clock, however, became more heart-stopping than amusing, as the clock tended to "swing" ominously beneath his weight. The only way to discourage his mischievous tricks (he usually looked over his shoulder to be sure someone was watching before he hurtled himself through the air at the clock) was to leave the room as soon as you saw him eyeing the bookshelf. 'Ere long, he would come trotting out after you.
This handsome silver tabby, with a wide, black "bullseye" patterned on each of his well-fed sides, loved his cat life with a passion I have seen in few of his feline fellows. Weighing a good 15 pounds ("I see you're raising mountain lions at your house," the vet would say when I took Echo in for his yearly shots), he was not content with the normal cat habits of eating and sleeping, eating and sleeping. He was a regular jogger. Seldom found sauntering through the house like his sister, Circe, he preferred a brisk trot to propel him from one place to another in our house. As a kitten, he delighted in crawling up inside of lamps, maneuvering himself inside our baby grand piano, and generally wedging himself into any tight, uncomfortable, commonly inaccessible space, merely, I'm sure, to prove it could be done after all.
Although many of these spaces did, indeed, become inaccessible after he finally stopped growing at 15 pounds, he never lost what I can only describe as a sheer enthusiasm for being alive. Then one day, as I was admiring the bright calculation in his face as he considered some new "adventure" in our house, it struck me: "This cat is excited to finally have a body!"
We are taught that we all lived as spirit children of Heavenly Parents before we were sent to this earth, and that one of the most important parts of this earth life is an opportunity for each of us to gain a body. The Lord, after revealing the creation of the earth, including that of both beasts and man to Moses, said to the prophet, "For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth." (Moses 2:5) Then surely, if I existed as a spirit in the pre-mortal life, Echo's cat spirit existed, too?
A little study confirmed this fact. When the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord what the meaning was of the four beasts that John the Revelator saw in Revelation 4:6, the Lord explained, "They are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, and every other creature which God has created." (D&C 77:2, italics added)
The fact that cats and other animals existed in spirit form in the pre-existence was not entirely new to me. Common sense and occasional gospel teachings on the subject had enlightened me on that matter. But the idea that a body might be a new and exciting thing to an animal, just as it is to a child . . . I had simply never considered that thought before. Watching Echo's delight in testing and stretching the limits of his body took on a whole new dimension for me. I began to watch him in wonder, and furthermore, I sometimes felt a little guilty for taking my own body so much for granted. Too frequently, I have failed to appreciate the unique and wonderful things I can do because I have a body. Yet here, this small, energetic little animal appeared uniquely happy in his sphere of life every single day, thanks to a mortal body that gave him so much joy.
Latter-day prophets teach us that animals can, and do, indeed, rejoice in living upon this earth. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, "Moreover, were not all creatures commanded to be happy in their spheres at least by implication if not by word? What a dreary world this would be should all life in the heavens above, on the earth, or in the sea be removed? What is more joyful to the ear than the voice of the robin on an early spring morning as he sings his song? The voice of the thrush, the meadow lark, even the bark of a friendly dog, each of them expressing their joy for their existence?" (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.4, p.44)
Another time, President Smith commented, "The Lord gave life to every creature, both the birds in the heavens, beasts on the earth, and the fishes in the streams or seas. They also were commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. It was intended that all creatures should be happy in their several elements." (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 4, p. 43)
Echo truly was a happy cat. He left this mortal life much too soon for me, a mere six years old. That's young for a cat. He appeared to pass peacefully, if mysteriously, in his sleep one day. Yes, I wept to lose him. The loss of so much energy, so much curiosity and precosiousness left a lonely vacuum in our home. But if the scriptures offered enlightenment about his pre-earth and mortal life, they also give hope for the future. In speaking of the day of resurrection, the Lord has said:
"For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand." (D&C 29:24-25, italics added) When I see Echo again, I believe it will be with those same distinctive bullseyes on his sides.
If the Lord notes even the fall of the sparrow (Matt. 10:29), then surely he knew both of Echo's passing and of my sadness to lose him.
As humbled as I had been by one small cat's appreciation for the body the Lord had given him, I continue in gratitude and awe for the infinite vastness, inclusiveness, and love made manifest by the Lord Jesus Christ's resurrection with its accompanying promise that we, too, both man and beast, shall rise again, "[Our] sleeping dust . . . to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to [our] bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that [we] might receive a fulness of joy." (D&C 138:17)
Perhaps, for now, Echo is anxiously awaiting that day, "look[ing] upon the long absence of [his] spirit from his bod[y] as a bondage." (D&C 138:50) But one day, he, like I, will receive our bodies again. In that day when "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord." (Isaiah 65:25)
With the Millennium come, the world at peace, and death finally conquered for man and beast alike . . . oh! what adventures Echo will have before him then.