Lions Are Not Personal

For 22 years I’ve searched for something that does not exist. I quit looking last week after standing in front of an angry, hungry lion. I watched his angry behavior and learned an important truth: Lions are not personal.

Brody is a male lion who lives at Turpentine Creek, just outside of Eureka Springs. I was standing a few feet from Brody when one of his caretakers prepared to shove ten pounds of raw meat through a head-high feeding hole in Brody’s pen. Hungry for the food, Brody swiped at the huge chunk of meat with his quick paw as the meat started through the hole. He smacked it hard and knocked it back toward the caretaker. It fell on the wrong side of the pen separated from Brody by the sturdy fence. The raw meat landed a few inches from him but perfectly out of reach outside his cage. Brody roared, as it were, exactly like an angry lion.

They say you can hear a lion roar five miles away. I believe it. Brody’s roars were so loud the air vibrated.

He was so angry and frustrated. He crashed against the steel mesh of his pen and glared wildly at me, roaring all the while as if it were my fault.

Brody’s mouth is huge, his legs are muscular, and he is quick. I told my wife later, if I’m ever in a jungle and a lion runs at me, he won’t kill me. I’ll die of fright before he gets to me. God created an awesome, fearful animal when he made the lion.

As Brody roared in anger and pawed and raged, shaking his huge mane in his fit, it struck me how quickly I would die if he broke loose. A single swipe of his paw and claws and it would have been over.

But as Brody roared, instead of being slashed by his huge paw, what struck me was a simple, important truth: Lions are not personal.

As Brody roared, I imagined living in a village and knowing the stories of other villagers or family members who had been attacked and even eaten by lions. I remembered watching “The Ghost and the Darkness”, a movie about the Tsavo man-eaters, two lions who killed about 135 workers who were building the railway from Uganda to Mombassa in the late 1890’s.

No one eaten by a lion is eaten because lions are personal. Lions eat meat. Lions kill because lions kill. Lions are not personal.

Here’s why that’s important to know.

Like many people, I want there to be meaning in the events that happen around me and to me. Perhaps it’s too much ego, but I tend to expect things happen for a purpose, that there’s a message I should gather from events. And the more significant the event, surely, the more important the message must be.

22 years ago I sat in the aftermath of a knife attack by two men against three children. For 22 years, I’ve searched, I’ve longed to find some message, some purpose, some justification that seems just. And there is none. It does not exist.

Now, after experiencing a lion’s fitful, furious rage just a few feet away, I know the only message is that lions are not personal. Lions kill because lions kill.

Some very bad things are simply bad. No matter how much they hurt, they are not personal. They just are.

So today I’m walking away from the cage.