Monday, February 27, 2012
our tiger rising
For weeks, one virus after another had infiltrated the noses, ears, lungs of my family members. As soon as one child rebounded, another donned the mask of raccoon eyes with nostrils drizzling snot. Although my defenses had warded off their maladies, I was beginning to feel worn down. A pain settled deep within me that was difficult to get a hold of or shake off. Finding words became laborious. I did not want to have conversations or give directions. It was difficult to respond to the simplest email. And I came up blank when I tried to compose for pleasure. The most disconcerting part about it was not the actual disabling of my written expression but my apathy about it. It was as if illness had settled in my thoughtful parts and drained me into dullness.
It turns out I did have an infection, a ninja bacteria which sneaked in unannounced and burrowed deep inside me. As my body quietly tried to resist its occupation, the infection had sapped me of any vital creative spark. It was nothing a strong course of antibiotics and an encounter with a very large cat could not cure.
On day two of my antibiotic treatment, I finally felt awake, though still in pain. It was unseasonably mild with a rich, citrus-y blanket of sunshine. The Baby was finally on the mend, too. She became a different child completely- a peaceful child without the torment of ear infections. I announced that we would go to The Zoo. 'See lions? Rrawrrr! See elephants? See g'affes?' She paused to contemplate what might be next on the list, 'And piggies?' The other children were home on February recess. Princess Commando, though in denial, was spiking a fever, and her nose became a faucet of goo. 'Go on without me,' she blessed us between nasal trumpeting. I dragged Henry, who had been a bit gloomy and solitary, out of bed and enticed him to accompany his sister and me with the promise that he could play his video game when we returned home.
It was forty three degrees- practically summer. We wouldn't need our heavy coats or gloves. And, I balked, as I walked out the door, at the umbrella leaning in a corner despite a sudden veil of low hanging darkness. But, as we were standing in the admission line, Henry announced that he felt rain. 'You do not feel rain,' I insisted through clenched teeth. But, I felt it too. And once we were inside, the temperature dropped 15 degrees. 'Do you want to leave?' I asked him, not sure if I wanted him to say yes. He shook his head and we moved through a steady, bitter mist and on to the sea lions who sprayed water at our feet each time they came up for air; to the polar bear pair who played dangerously close to the edge their stone cliff; to the Rain Forest exhibit where a capybara pressed his nose against the glass at The Baby's feet; to the hyena enclosure where muddy paw prints eerily smeared the glass in front of us as if they had recently been scrambling to get at a delicious kid. The Baby danced in the puddles which collected in the cobblestone paths, oblivious to the fact that the zoo felt so vibrant in the rain. Without the leering gazes of onlookers, the animals were not hiding. The lion filled the air with his voice- a sort of velvet depth that reverberated in my core.
In the adjacent enclosure I saw him. Streaks of flame, ash and sand pacing the length of his well worn real estate. The tiger patrolled his paddock as if he was working out an intensely involved mathematical problem. His repetitive ambulating made me, the one who could walk away at any moment, feel trapped. I would have watched him all day; but I realized that my little zoo party had wandered off toward the gorilla house. As I turned to reach my children, I made my way to the other side of the enclosure to a glass window in the jagged stone work. He happened to be making his rounds along my side. I stopped once more to get a better look at him. As I paused, he circled back around. He broke his measure and regarded me for a moment- this woman in the rain with her hands pressed against the glass. And then he ever so gracefully, so softly stood up on his hind legs, pressing his paws on the glass where my hands pushed back on the other side. He held my gaze and warmth flooded my head, my face, my hands. I whispered to Henry to grab my camera from my back pack but I realized I didn't pack it. 'Don't go,' I called out in my head. 'Go,' he seemed to answer back. 'Don't you see that you are not trapped?' And then he softly turned away and solemnly padded down to the bottom of his enclosure and out of sight.
I felt breathless. I felt a charge. I felt the fire that had been burning a painful flame in my body travel to my chest and fill me with a different heat. The official change of seasons is weeks away but once again I felt the the zephyrs of awakening, Open the windows. Scrub down the walls. Let go and move forward. Create. Do not be idle in you life. I recalled one of our favorite stories, The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. I thought of the caged tiger in the woods-so close to freedom- released by the empathetic heart of a child only to be destroyed for that same child's protection. A tragic display of love from all parties involved. I recalled too how Henry had written an essay for an entrance exam in which he was asked to choose a piece of literature and write about a critical moment in the story he would like to change and how he would change it. He chose The Tiger Rising. 'I would change the moment when the tiger dies and I would not let him die.' I looked at my kid who is struggling to feel comfortable in his own world. I realized that while I would have pulled my child out of his path, I would not have let the tiger die either. We need him around here to remind us of all the living we have yet to do.
Posted by Amy Cappelli at 11:42 AM