on courage

I don’t remember when I first started developing the definition of the concept of courage that I have, in my head, now.
I remember when I started Finding the Words for that concept, though.

I have two cats, Pico and Sisi.

Pico, the older of the two – is a quiet, mildly neurotic but incredibly sweet grey cat, born in South LA in August of last year.

His story, before ending up in the South LA animal shelter, is not known.

What I do know from between September, when he arrived there, and October, when I adopted him, is pieced together from the paperwork given to me upon adoption, and from some things gathered from conversations with volunteers at the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter and at NKLA.

My guess is that he lost his mother early.

Was sick

Brought to a shelter at only four weeks old
He was sent to a home to be fostered
And brought back only 24 hours later
The ones fostering him said he’d been vomiting all night

The South LA shelter takes in far more animals than the West LA one does

Animals come, and frequently stay
Until they are transferred out
Or euthanized
(Though LA was making some impressive headway towards their No-Kill goal, last I checked!)

So I imagine him, there


but surrounded by other traumatized, sick, and frightened cats

And by the distorted barking, growling, and whining of dogs in similar states of distress echoing through the walls

His report, from that point on, is a litany of a living being in crisis
“Kitten is sick”
“Kitten is underweight”
“Kitten is depressed. Will not eat.”

It broke my heart,
Reading that report

And still threatens to- whenever I think about how long I waited to read it, when I could have had so much more information with which to understand this sweet, sad, complex little guy I call Pico.

A month of that
And no one had adopted him

He was sent with a huge group of kittens who had likewise sat too long in the South LA shelter- transferred up to the West LA one
Where I’d been several times, as well as to the NKLA facility nearby
To meet with some of the kittens

I get along well with cats, in general – and I felt like I could have been a pretty good match with the ones I met

But Pico
I knew Pico was the one, within seconds

He was so tiny, there in the visitation room


But, trembling –
He explored

Even oblivious to the weight that his history gave that moment, gave that action

I was,



in awe.


His courage, it took my breath away

I’m not sure I believe that it’s possible to be human and truly not feel fear

I might be wrong

But most of the people I’ve met who might have described themselves as fearless

were more blind than truly courageous

Being courageous
to me
being a courageous human

Being a courageous kitten
A courageous living being

Is something different than being fearless
Something else

Real courage, true bravery

To me

means facing one’s fears

acknowledging them, seeing them for what they are

and then not letting them stop us

Overcoming them
By growing from them,

by growing with them

Instead of blithely attempting to blunder through them

Separate from them, and in opposition to them

and instead of by allowing them to grow over us

Creeping over, throughout, and within – everything

Slowly – like vines – those fears snake out in all directions, choking out all light and then constrict

In either of those scenarios, it becomes hard to see

hard to breathe

and we tend to act more out of a sense of panic, than of presence of mind

and we tend to destroy, even when we would like to create


But when we can find it within us

to grasp the hand of the trembling, tiny kitten we all have inside us

(I know I’m mixing up metaphors, here; I’m trying to put words to what is in my head – and my head is not very good at following literary conventions!)


to grasp that hand




step forward

in pace with it

in step with it


I believe


Those steps will grow ever more sure


ever more steady







we begin to run


and then, to




I spent three years living on the street in Los Angeles. I came out of that, changed. This is my story.

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