I smiled warmly when I took this photo of Thomas Friday morning. I was about to snap a picture when he heard a sound he didn’t recognize. He froze and looked worried for a couple of long seconds until he was sure there was no danger.
I was amused because I knew there was no danger. I didn’t know exactly what the tiny sound had been, but there was nothing scary about it to me. When I posted the photo on social media, I made a joke about him being a scaredy cat — but not wanting to admit it.
These little creatures are so much less sophisticated than we are, I thought.
A few minutes ago — around 1:30 a.m. Saturday — Lucy and I were out taking a late-night walk around the neighborhood. It’s rare when we encounter anybody else who’s out this late, so it’s a great time to walk. And the 60-degree weather tonight was delightful.
About half a mile into our walk, we were going down a street with houses on one side and woods on the other. I heard a sudden rustling in the thick trees — and I was instantly wearing a panicked expression very much like the one I saw on Thomas Friday morning.
I had no reason to be scared. I have no reason to believe there are any dangerous creatures in the woods in my neighborhood. I have no reason to believe any human might be lurking — especially at 1:30 in the morning — who would wish to do us harm.
But my heart rate shot up. I turned around and went the other direction. I walked faster. And I took us straight home.
By the time I was about to turn onto my own driveway, my heart rate was down and I knew we were safe. I could be rational again. I could even laugh at my brief episode of panic.
Mostly, though, I felt sheepish about having looked at Thomas with amusement. I had just shown myself to be more like my skittish little 10-pound cat than I like admitting to myself.
We like to see ourselves as sophisticated. We like to see human society as being full of certainties and safety. But we all have moments when some deeper part of our brains — the instinctive part which scientists sometimes call the reptilian brain — takes over and we act in ways that don’t quite fit what our rational sides prefer.
We can do this when we fear for our safety. We can do this when someone we love is threatened. We can do this when we’re afraid about whether we’re making the right choices.
We like to think we’re rational, but when that reptilian brain is triggered, we’re not rational at all.
I feel sheepish about making fun of Thomas Friday morning, even if it was in a gentle and loving way, because I realize I’m no different than he is. When faced with something I can’t identify, a part of me reacts just as he did when I snapped this photo.
We are sometimes hard on each other — and on ourselves — when we react in fear or in seemingly irrational ways. I think we ought to be more loving and gentle toward each other — and with ourselves — when we trigger that reptilian brain.
We need to recognize that we’re not always rational. We need to recognize that the people we love aren’t always going to be rational, either. We need to admit to ourselves that we’re often far more like the creatures with whom we share this planet than we like to admit.
So, Thomas, I apologize for poking good-natured fun at you, my little friend. It turns out I’m a scaredy cat, too.