She showed up in some shrubs near my carport a few weeks ago, a fleeting ghostly image with a very bold voice. As I would enter and exit my car, she would talk to me loudly as she hid beneath the lorapetalum leaves, eyes eerily shining in the dark. I didn’t know exactly what she said, but I knew what she meant. She was lonely and hungry. As time progressed, she gradually made herself more known. I could see that not only was she white, but she had light brown ears. Her tail had been cut off and what remained was a fuzzy brown nub. She had blue eyes, slightly crossed. She was friendly. And, did I mention, had a bold, bold voice?
I knew the encounter was inevitable. My dogter is friendly and has never hurt another living creature, but she is hardwired to chase cats. Even the mention of the word “kitty” elicits nasal whines as she trembles with excitement at the prospect of running after one of these nimble things. Arriving home one evening, it happened. She bounded out of my vehicle as the white kitty casually rubbed against the recycle bin in the carport. The chase was on, lasting only a few seconds. Back to hiding in the Lorapetalum went the kitty, and perplexed and frustrated as to how to catch one of these things went the dog. This was a common occurrence for a few days.
But then, the chase stopped. The kitty stopped running. Unable to chase something that wouldn’t move, the dog looked on with curiosity. Their noses touched, a couple of sniffs, and they were done. Quickly bored with one another. And that is how face-to-face encounters continued between the feline and canine, members of different families, but belonging to the same kingdom, phylum, class, and order.
I have a screened in porch that connects to the carport. During pleasant evenings, my dog and I hang out on the porch, she generally further disfiguring one of her already mangled toys, and me generally just being. There is an old-fashioned screen door that opens from the porch into the carport, which is where the kitty appeared one evening, loudly asserting herself. Each time she would appear on the other side of the screen, the dog would leap, growling into the door, chasing the kitty away. I would remind her this is the same creature she made amends with and subsequently lost interest in. But every time the white cat appeared, the dog would pounce, aggressive sounds emanating that I had never heard from her before. When I would open the screen door, their noses would touch, they would know each other once again, and no drama ensued. Each time the door shut again, the veil was in place, and her impulse to chase it away would activate. Open the door, “we know each other,” my dog was Miss Cordiality. Shut the door, “a stranger is invading,” my dog was Miss Beast.
It occurred to me how like humans this behavior is. We can certainly have fear of people who we think are not like us that subsides when the barriers that divide us come down. We’re able to see each other, make contact with that common thread of humanity we all share, and our fear is neutralized.
But it also is a lot like how our personal fears stay intact. When we live with anxiety, there is often a constant putting up of barriers between ourselves and whatever it is that we fear, whether it be actual objects, memories, situations, thoughts, whatever. We expend a lot of resources into building barriers to distance ourselves from the feared thing, so it looms on the other side of the wall, a ferocious monster that we must not look at or engage with or it will consume us. But it’s the very looking at it, meeting it, getting to know it that actually dismisses the fear. Anxiety won’t kill us. It tells us it can, when it’s on the other side of the door, bellowing loudly. But when we open the door, sniff it out, see it and know it, we no longer have to chase it away. We know we can coexist, even when it’s voice is bold. It’s no longer the ghostly creature hiding in the lorapetalum, but perhaps just a lonely white kitty with a need for a home.