Lessons from a storybook cat.

The tiny kitten was found in a window box of flowers. Sitting among the tulips. Discovered by a young girl named Rosie.

Leading up to that moment, the innocent animal had been pushed out into the dusty street with a broom, soaked with a hose, chased by a dog, and threatened by a woman wielding a stick. And she was homeless. But she never lost hope. And, finally, she was safe. She was found. She belonged.

I never knew the little cat’s name. The author of the children’s book didn’t give her one – just a description: “a little white cat with a pink little nose and soft little toes.” But she was the star of my very favorite book as a child (“Scat, Scat, Go Away Little Cat”). It also happened to be the book I hated the most. I used to squirm and worry through the first part of it – pleading with the reader to go faster – to hurry to the good part – the part where the cat was found and saved and loved.

In its over-simplified way, this decades-old story, taught me about the beauty of kindness and the salvation of acceptance. Remarkably, it also revealed the flipside of that emotional reality. The back-story. Along with that little white cat, I suffered with every reading of it through all the ache of vulnerability that seems to be necessary on the journey toward enabling kindness.

Of course, at the age of approximately two or three or four years old, as I must have been while the book was being read to me, those concepts were never verbalized or even present in my conscious awareness. But the sense of it was there. The lesson tucked away in my heart. Vulnerability is a good thing. It lets you be kind.

And then, somewhere along the way of growing up and becoming wise, the lesson fell away from my soul. Vulnerability is not a good thing. It lets you be hurt.

I suspect I am not alone in the learning and unlearning of such truths. Life does that to us.

Recently, however, I’ve been involved with a project that has allowed me to reexamine all aspects of vulnerability. Researching it. Reading about it from all the wisest minds. Remembering it from childhood and being a teenager and yesterday. Talking about it. Watching it. Walking all around and through it. Poking at it. Studying its reflection in a mirror.

And one of the most interesting things I came across in my researching was actually said about “courage” by World War I hero, ace flyer, Eddie Rickenbacker: “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

I suspect it may be the same with vulnerability and kindness. We cannot be kind unless we’ve been vulnerable – unless we are vulnerable still, and know the inherent connection between the two.

Perhaps in the end, being afraid and being vulnerable are some of the best parts of being human. For, without them, there would be no reason to be brave, there would be no ability to be kind. And, of course, there would be fewer stories to be read to the children.