March 30, 2023

I Thought I was Scared of Animals. Turns out, I was Scared of Love.

I used to be terrified of cats and dogs.

In their presence, I had no control, and it frightened me. Don’t get me wrong—I wanted to love them. They’re so cuddly, cute, and pure, and I yearned to hug one.

But because we don’t speak the same language, because we don’t think the same, I felt they could hurt me. They were seductive, wild, and dangerous things. A dog could sense and misunderstand my fear for aggression, and attack. The cat, unable to say, “I want to play and not be held,” could scratch me while jumping out of my arms.

And so for most of my life, I’ve missed out on the unique love and affection only an animal—free of human walls and inhibitions—can give. Even when I started getting used to kittens and puppies, I’d approach with extreme caution, and in my guarded manner, I could not fully be present to receive their love.

Until the day came, of course, when I couldn’t resist the charms of the sweet kitten I lived with at the time. Unemployed, dumped, and friendless in a foreign country, I was going through a rough period and woke up depressed yet again. Watching her follow me, chase her tail, and then accidentally bang into doors as I attempted to get on with the day, though, pulled on my heartstrings. I had to hold this silly, adorable little angel. So, for the first time, I nervously picked up a kitten with the sole intention of cuddling and kissing her—to express my love fully rather than halfway.

In those brief seconds, my entire heart melted. I felt deep love, but I also felt, for one of the first times in my life, unconditional love and acceptance—and by an animal. I could feel how tiny she was, how quickly her own heart was beating, too, underneath her soft white fluff—and I realized she was just as vulnerable as I was. But still, she was letting me hold her despite the fact I was huge, had just woken up, looked like a mess, and felt like a failure. Even if she tried to scratch me, she would merely be trying to protect herself from a larger, more dangerous creature she couldn’t understand. She was, in other words, like me—just braver.

Did she end up scratching me? Yes, she did. She soon grew tired of being held and wanted to be set free to further explore the big world that was the living room. In her attempt to jump out of my arms, her small paw accidentally scratched me along the way. But instead of freaking out and vowing to never hold her again, I simply let her go. I had some scratches, but they were tiny, and nothing in comparison to the deep intimacy I had just experienced surrendering to this tiny creature.

Since then, she’s scratched me multiple times, as have a number of other cats. Every now and then, a dog will growl at me as I walk past, and one has even bitten me. But instead of running across the street when a dog walks by to avoid another bite, I simply smile. The kitten taught me that that’s life. You can’t predict who’s going to hurt you, and neither can you always control that. Scratches sometimes come with love, especially when two frightened creatures intertwine.

But does that mean you run away or shut off a part of yourself from the experience? No, because as the kitten taught me, then you lose so much more than you gain.

I got scratched by the kitten that day, but I also caught a glimpse of what it’s like to be yourself with all of your flaws on full display—make-up free, depressed, and in your ugly pajamas messing it all up—and still be seen and hugged. I got to experience the sweetness of a terrified little creature looking up at you with big eyes, knowing full well you could kill her, not understanding your thinking or your ways, but still trusting you enough to let you cuddle her.

Yes, she scratched me that day, but later she curled up on my lap and I held her once more. And while I knew she’d probably scratch again at some point (those claws were getting long!), it didn’t matter. Because opening your heart, I realized, is worth the risk—even when it causes pain.

In a word or two, a kitten taught me how to love.

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Sheena Vasani  |  Contribution: 1,885

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