THE KING OF BEASTS
Once all the other animals put a lion in a cage. They did this because they wanted to honor and protect one of their own as a symbol of what they held to be most important and admirable in themselves: an expression of their highest potential, so to speak. In keeping with that intention, they called the lion “King of Beasts” and chose the most beautiful of gilded cages for it. Every day the splendid cage was pulled past the other members of the animal kingdom, all of whom either cheered wildly or bowed in humble and solemn silence before this symbol of what they deemed most worthy of honoring. The lion enjoyed the attention, but at times it wondered what a life without bars and constraints might be like. Because it was given the best of everything, it never had the opportunity to choose for itself, even to choose badly. All that could possibly be desired was offered to it by zealous attendants before it could even decide what it wanted. As the years passed, instead of growing increasingly accustomed to this favored treatment and less willing to give it up, the lion became more and more depressed over its confinement. Sometimes at night it could even be heard to lament, “Oh hard, hard fate to be born a lion!” On such nights it might also question why, among all the creatures on the face of the earth, it alone had been singled out in this way. Many others were its equal in strength, courage, intelligence. Many might even be superior to it in those qualities. Increasingly dejected at its state, the lion would whisper to every creature that came to pay it homage: “Trade places with me, I beseech you. Just for a day.” But who was willing to give up the freedom to do anything one wanted and be held constantly to the highest standards as an example for others? So long as the lion was king, that responsibility was taken care of. The rest of the animals could go about their business with an easy mind, at liberty to follow whatever standards worked best for them on a case-by-case basis. In the world of everyday survival, who had the luxury to act in exemplary fashion at all times? No matter how often it asked, therefore, the lion met with polite refusals on every hand. That is, until one day the lion’s torment was eased by one of the lowliest creatures of the land, a mouse. Hearing rumors of the lion’s distress, this mouse made its way past all of the many barriers and all of the watchful attendants until it stood at the edge of the cage. There it waited its chance, and when the lion happened to pace by, piped up, “I’ll take a crack at being king.” The lion stopped in its tracks, but only for a moment. The next moment the lion and mouse had traded places, and the next, the lion was gone. The first sight of a mouse acting like the “King of Beasts” flustered the attendants and even led to some resignations amid snorts of “It’s a disgrace! A disgrace!” The great majority, however, soon reconciled themselves to the change and carried on with their duties much as before. They just made the cage smaller. To be sure, the other animals noticed that a mouse had become king, but that didn’t seem to bother many of them either for long. Why couldn’t a mouse serve just as well as a lion to symbolize something important about themselves? It all depended on how you looked at it.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans