“We’re all just waiting for someone to notice—notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage.” Rachel Macy Stafford
It’s not often I get out for a Saturday morning walk before the break of dawn anymore. But, today I did – and I’m glad. Because as soon as I crossed the street that leads from the entrance to our apartment building to my walk route, I came across a small calico kitten lying in the dew-stained grass of a large field near the sidewalk. She was shivering cold, scared to death, and alone. My initial instinct was to scoop her up and take her home with me and I actually would’ve if I could’ve, but I’m allergic to cats; so, I did what, in the moment, seemed like the next best thing. Despite knowing that it likely would mean spending the remainder of my 6 mile journey sniffling and sneezing, I stopped, bent down as softly and as slowly as I could so as not to scare her away, and gently began to brush the tiny droplets of moisture left behind by a long night spent in the weeds off her back. As the trust between us grew, I moved my hand to the side of her face and began to stroke it for a few minutes, all the while staring in her eyes. By the time I stood up to continue on my walk, I could’ve sworn I saw her smile – not because I’d “rescued” her, but because I’d noticed her, taken a moment to care – offered a tiny seed of hope that today might be a little different, a little kinder than yesterday.
As I walked away, it occurred to me that there are lots of “little kittens” like my new friend walking around on two feet in this world. Some are doing their level best to hide in the weeds, while others are sharing our church pew on Sunday, our lunch room at work, our classroom at school, our Social Media networks – even our dining room table at home – insisting they’re “fine”. Yesterday, one of them, a young South Florida lawyer with a two year-old son and a beautiful wife put a gun to his head and took his own life. I didn’t know the man, except through a mutual friend, and I don’t pretend for a minute to have any understanding of the demons he was battling or how long he’d been fighting them. I’m also not naïve enough to believe for a minute that a few words of encouragement or affirmation would have made a meaningful difference, let alone led to a different outcome. But, maybe they could have helped if they’d come at the right time, been uttered by the right person, struck just the right chord or opened the door of hope just wide and long enough to allow his troubled soul to catch a glimpse of the possibility that tomorrow could be different – and maybe they will for someone like him, someone you know or may encounter as you walk through life.
I can’t help but think there’s a lesson to be learned from this young man and this morning’s encounter with my precious little friend. Perhaps it’s that we’re all in this Life thing together; that loneliness and fear are real and far more prevalent and life-threatening than we realize; that we all have the capacity to be a little more attentive to each other; that sometimes we are called to look beyond polite assurances to family, friends and colleagues that someone is “fine” into eyes that, on closer inspection, plainly reveal a deeper, darker truth – and not ignore it when we see it; that we can’t afford to make assumptions about someone’s happiness or emotional well-being based on how many FB friends or Twitter followers they have or how many smiling faces they post on Instagram; and that, contrary to what we may believe, all of us have the time to step outside of ourselves, to stop and offer an ear to listen, an open heart to empathize, and open arms to offer a moment of comfort and reassurance. Sometimes that moment may be all it takes to reignite a pilot light of hope, give birth to a commitment to take a first step on the road to recovery or the next, or at least inspire a willingness to finish out the day and give tomorrow a chance.
The little kitten wasn’t there when I made my way back to the apartment this morning. I’d like to think it’s because a friend came along and invited her to play or that she found her way home to a worried mom and dad. In fact, I did think that – and this time the smile was mine!
*Photo credit: Stephanie Martinez-Simm, Esq.