Michelle Martin

Be not afraid

April 22, 2018

There’s nothing at all frightening about “Hello Kitty!” — at least not the Hello Kitty videos aimed at very young children. Instead, there are gentle lessons about how children grow (in one episode, Kitty and her sister outgrow their shoes) and how to find something that was lost (remember where it was the last time you saw it).

But the theme song, with its earworm refrain of “Kitty! Kitty Kitty!”, that’s something to strike terror into the heart of any adult. Now, for Teresa, it has become the refrain of one of her first childhood fears: cats.

It started when we visited a friend’s apartment to take care of her cat when she was away. The cat emerged from under the couch and she and Teresa startled one another. The cat hissed and retreated under the couch again; Teresa screamed and jumped into my arms.

The next week, at Easter dinner, we were blowing bubbles in my sister-in-law’s backyard when a cat wandered in. Teresa saw the cat, stood stock still and cried, saying “Kitty! Kitty!” The cat stood still and stared at her. I picked her up and told her there was nothing to be afraid of, the cat wouldn’t hurt her. After she calmed down, the cat lost interest in her, briefly investigated the flower beds and shrubbery and wandered back out the way it came.

Then, away from home in a hotel, one of the chairs squeaked. Teresa looked up and started to cry again, saying “Kitty! Kitty!” I had to move all the furniture to show her that there really was no kitty there to get her to calm down enough to go to sleep.

The Easter season is when Jesus told his disciples — and us — not to be afraid.

There is such a thing as a healthy fear; I’m glad Teresa reacted by getting away from the cat who hissed at her, and I think the cat’s glad of that too. But I don’t want her to be afraid of every cat who crosses her path, treating her with feline indifference or even coming up to say a friendly hello.

According to child development experts, parents in my situation are supposed to walk a line between dismissing a child’s irrational fear and validating it, not saying “There’s nothing to be scared of,” while also not acting like they are right to be afraid.

Jesus, it seems to me, never told his disciples that there was nothing to fear, either on a boat in a storm or in the shocking fact of his resurrection. Storms can be scary. So can the overturning of everything you thought to be true about the nature of life and death.

Jesus just told them that with faith in him, they did not have to fear anything, no matter how frightening it might seem. That’s a hard lesson still, even when we’re only talking about cats.