I stepped on my cat’s tail this morning as I shuffled across the kitchen floor. I was being mindful of my coffee cup because it was full—the coffee wasn’t quite sloshing out, but it was worthy of my attention. I didn’t want to spill it because that would cause a mess that I’d have to clean up. That was, at the moment, more important than the living and beloved creatures that cruise around me each morning. A screech, a hiss, fluffly tails;, an exodus. Each cat shot out into a corner, and then stared at me with the most doleful disappointment in their eyes.
My stomach lurched as I realized that even though I’d never willfully hurt them (or even inconvenience them), I had done it. It was an awful feeling. Approaching each one of them slowly, and gently, I couldn’t help cuddling and apologizing so they’d feel the apology, and so I could say it. Newkie’s one good eye, the beautiful blueness of it, caught mine, and we had a moment of reconciliation. I smoothed his tail, his flame colored pointed ears. He flowed out of my arms like water, or caramel maybe, due to his coloring. To each one, I went, in similar fashion.
Heading back to my coffee, I noticed I had, in fact, spilled it and made a mess. If I’d been watching out for the kitties, I would less likely have bumped into one, and been less likely to spill my coffee. I’m grateful for the animals that brighten my life in any number of ways, and I’m grateful I get to care for them, both in my home and at the place I volunteer. I’m grateful to have kindness and compassion that is readily available. I’m grateful for the small lessons that make me think on a larger scale.
My cultivation of kindness and empathy is an awareness that constantly deserves my attention. My husband would rather scoot a cat out of the way to avoid getting a few sprinkles of coffee grounds on the floor and my inclination is to stop and pick up the cat, share a moment of sweetness, and then spend an additional moment cleaning up the coffee grounds. Doesn’t matter how they got there. They’ll get there any number of ways, right? Is that true in your kitchen, too?
What would it be like if , when we encountered people different from us—on the street, at the store, wherever— we didn’t shuffle away from them, that we already imagined them as friends? You know that feeling when you unexpectedly see a friend in the store, how lovely it is, even if it’s only a quick hello. There’s a smile, a recognition, a kindness. What if we could do that with people we don’t know yet, who aren’t our friends yet? Could that be the start of a friendship, over a shared comment of the price of grapes, or the wide array of kids’ cereals? I would like to think our commonalities could make us friends. How do we reach that goal? Why would we want more friends?
Did you ever have a friend in school that was different than you? She might have lived next door, or sat in your class. She had a cool sounding last name, or liked to play different games than you, or was particularly good at drawing? When you got to know her, you got to see her house and marveled at the cool things in it. Not expensive things, but a way of decorating that was different from your own house. And you got to learn about how her family celebrated a holiday, from the decorations to the food, to the way they interacted. How exotic was special. And that you had a cool friend. And maybe that made you cool, too. And then you stood up for her when people made fun of her because she was a bit different. And rather than shuffling away from her, you told others how and why you thought she was a good person, or a good friend. And that helped you feel like a good friend, too. Wouldn’t you be grateful to be known as a good friend, a good person?What if we learned about, and then extolled another’s virtues rather than digging in and only caring about our own? Corporations do that all over the world to build teamwork; classrooms do it to teach a sense of safety and ownership. Don’t churches even do that through charity work, or sermons or something? Where can you find examples in your own life in which the protagonist learns a valuable lesson and then shares it, illuminating it for others; opening more eyes than just his own.
The examined life is a good one. The cultivated awareness it takes expands our definition of humanity, of civility, of kindness. It can take us out of our often narrow world view and toward friendships and opportunities we might never have imagined. And we become enriched. We pass it on. It’s as easy as smiling at someone like they are already a friend. That’s how it starts.