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with lions, it is not personal

For 22 years, I searched for something that does not exist. Finally, I quit looking last week while standing in front of an angry, hungry lion. I watched his angry behavior and learned an important truth: with lions, it is not personal.

Brody is a male lion living at Turpentine Creek, just outside Eureka Springs. I was standing a few feet from Brody when one of his caretakers began shoving ten pounds of raw meat through a head-high feeding hole in Brody’s pen. As the beef started through the hole, Brody, hungry for the food, swiped at the massive chunk of meat with his quick paw. He smacked it hard and knocked it back toward the caretaker. The slab of a dead animal fell on the wrong side of the pen, separated from Brody by the strong wire of his cage. The raw meat was inches from him but perfectly beyond his reach outside the cage.

Brody roared!

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

He was so angry and frustrated. He crashed against the steel mesh of his pen, lunging with paws up, glaring wildly, and roaring 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 am ever in a jungle and a lion runs at me, he will not kill me. I will die of fright before he catches me. God created an awesome, fearful animal in 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 I would be food.

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

I found peace.

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 devoured because lions are personal. Lions eat meat. Lions kill because lions kill. Lions are not personal.

Here is why that is important to know.

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

22 years ago I sat in the aftermath of a knife attack by two men against three children. For 22 years, I have searched, I have 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 message in the roar is that with lions, it is 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 am walking away from the cage.

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