People are always surprised to find out I've never owned a dog. As a passionate dog walker/pet sitter, it seems only natural that I would have grown up with a dog, but my parents didn't allow cats or dogs when I was young. They did, however, welcome just about every other critter into the house, including snakes, turtles, frogs, lizards, geckos, fish, and even an ant farm for a period of time. I grew up getting to know and love the more unusual pets first--the animals that many adults often fear. I think I'm fortunate for my deep-rooted, diverse love of all creatures, because this nonjudgmental love has spread to all human beings as well. We are all worthy of love and understanding, no matter what our physical appearance. It's easy to love something cute, but often times more rewarding to get to know and love something that initially instills fear.
What causes this type of superficial fear? Lack of experience. Judgments passed down and bred through society. An unwillingness to open up and get close. As a kid, I never understood why some people didn't like snakes. I used to ride my bike around with my pet garter snake, Andrew, curled up snug in the front basket, having the time of my life while unintentionally freaking out my neighbors. Andrew was my best friend. He was one of the sweetest, most loving pets I've ever had, but because of cultural stereotypes and inexperience, many people didn't even want to take a second look at him, let alone touch him. They thought he was gross. They thought he was dangerous, and worst of all, some thought he was evil. I didn't learn about the negative religious connotations associated with snakes until I was older and Andrew was long gone. It broke my heart to realize some people saw him as a bad omen rather than the full, beautiful animal he truly was. This realization sparked a question in me: "Who am I avoiding out of judgmental, superficial fear? What animals and people can I learn more about and get to know?"
Around this same time, I went to the movies to see "Big Fish" and became inspired by the werewolf scene. In this scene, Edward Bloom's character decides to play fetch with the ring-master-turned-werewolf rather than react with fear. The result is heart-warming. The intimidating werewolf turns into a playful pup, transformed by Edward Bloom's positive reaction to his appearance. Bloom's quote has stuck with me ever since: "It was that night I discovered that most things you consider evil or wicked are simply lonely, and lacking in the social niceties."
This favorite quote of mine along with the question ignited within me as a kid has changed my life, opening up my realm of love and understanding to all types of people and animals. Whenever I feel discomfort or fear in someone's presence, I push myself closer, delving beneath the layers of armor to get to know the person underneath. I become a positive mirror. I reflect an open and loving presence to allow the person or animal in front of me to let go of any defense mechanisms and become relaxed and full of love also. When an animal or person is used to being confronted with fear, they will of course automatically react with fear as well, but when they are faced instead with love, their walls melt and the fear subsides.
We are all beautiful, worthy-of-love creatures. I don't believe in symbols or stereotypes. I believe in individuals and the gorgeous depth beneath the surface. I believe we all need to move in closer to each other, welcome a little discomfort and fear, and then let the fear fall away as understanding takes over. We all need a positive mirror. We all need someone to look us in the eye, touch our face, and say, "I see you and I don't fear you. I see the playful pup inside."