I listened to a fascinating story on NPR radio as told by a 20 year prison inmate about his experience with a stray cat. I don’t recall his name but he was clearly extremely bright and articulate. I have no idea why he was imprisoned but the point of his essay is worthy of consideration.
He described finding a stray cat on the prison grounds. He began to fondle and play with it–something he had not done since his incarceration. The cat responded to him. Other inmates began to befriend the cat. He observed that many were hardened criminals who had previously kept to themselves, sullen and rarely smiled.
Their reaction to this stray cat, their experience of offering affection and the cat’s response was astounding. Many seemed to temporarily shed the emotional walls so long erected during those spontaneous moments with the animal.
The inmate’s observations were compelling. Offering unconditional kindness to this small creature seemed to touch these prisoners in a way that therapists, social workers, prison guards, clergy had not.
The point here is rather simple but profound. Offering love and kindness to another creature without thoughts of our own ‘needs’, ‘preconditions’ or pretext may be the simplest and most powerful healing tool we have.