For Cecil, the Lion


After having children, I found myself

on my habitual drive to work, listening

to NPR, suddenly weeping. A story

that before would have rolled past,

now salt-stung skin that felt laid bare,

raw and open to the world’s horrors

and tragedies. Not just news of

suffering children (though that was

the worst — Sandy Hook incapacitated

for close to a week). Endless stories

of a factory collapse, an earthquake,

disasters man-made and those

beyond our control would set me

weeping on the drive, wiping the tears

away, as I tried to cling to normalcy.


Raising children helped. Steeling

myself to extract a splinter from a wailing

child, cultivating calm when hunting

for a child who might have been kidnapped

but was almost certainly simply hiding

or distracted, pushing down the panic

because what they needed was a mommy

who was calm and capable, not spinning

in shattered circles. Slowly, you build

a solid core, you become the still center

of their world, the rock they can cling to.


When they are small, everything is a

tragedy, a disaster. The smallest injury

elicits distress, and it is part of your job

to help them calibrate, to understand

they do not need to fear the world’s

ending at a splinter, a skinned knee,

a cruel word from a supposed friend.

They need a little callus to protect them.


But this world — this desperately unfair

society we have built, starts layering on

its calluses too. It is skilled at that work,

and most of us emerge to adulthood

armored in heavy layers of indifference,

self-interest. We are too busy worrying

about ourselves to care about our neighbour

(next door, across the country or the planet),

far too busy to fret about the suffering land,

the mute creatures who walk it, fewer every day.


A variant spelling for callus, is callous.


This is the work we must do, every day,

letting the callus be stripped away, laying

ourselves bare to the world’s horrors.

Sometimes, a particular tragedy punches

through, and the story of a dentist and

a beloved lion, one of a disappearing few,

lured from his safe haven to forty hours

of suffering, then death, is what gets us.


It’s an opening. A puncture in the armor,

and through that weakened spot, perhaps

a little more compassion will flow, widening

it further over time. Once you start to care

about a lion on the other side of the world,

maybe you will pay a little more attention

when your vegan friend pontificates on

the evils of factory farming. Maybe you will

buy the cage-free eggs for a change, or

simply have lentils for dinner that night.


Once animal lives matter, maybe black lives

will matter more too. Maybe not. There

are no direct lines here, and we all live

enmeshed in an inconsistent web of desire

and habit, compassion and compromise.


But this is my hope. That we will slowly

wear away the callus, lay ourselves open

and raw to the suffering of the world. And

at the same time, that we will have built

that strong, still center, so that when the

world’s pain comes sleeting at us, we

may stand upright, are not overwhelmed.


It may be too much to ask, that we take on

such arduous, painful labor for ourselves.

Perhaps we will do it for our children. Or,

perhaps our children will look back at the lives

we lived, horrified at our callousness. And that

will be a victory too. Slowly, slowly, we progress.




July 30, 2015