Once a young zebra found itself in a herd of black horses and white horses. The zebra watched the black horses and the white horses carefully for clues about how it might fit into the herd and noticed that although they seemed to spend most of the day moving about at random as they grazed, when night fell the white horses generally moved closer together and the black horses generally moved closer together as well. The zebra wondered why that should be. The horses, for their part, wondered about the zebra in return. First of all, what color was it exactly? Was it white with black stripes or was it black with white stripes? How could one be both black and white at the same time? Could one change one’s stripes at will? Was the zebra trying to hide something about itself, the black horses asked each other and the white horses asked each other? Was the young zebra pretending to be something it was not? The zebra knew it couldn’t do anything about the stripes it was born with. When it first noticed the difference between itself and the horses, it had in fact wished itself entirely one color and then entirely the other color by turns, hoping to escape the scrutiny of at least half the herd by turns. The wishing hadn’t had the desired effect, though, and the zebra had ultimately decided there was nothing it could do about its stripes. Why should it want to change them anyway? They were what made it a zebra, weren’t they? There was also nothing to be done, it concluded, about the way the horses behaved in its presence. Some within each group pretended the zebra simply didn’t exist, or so it seemed from their habit of watching it furtively but quickly turning their eyes away if the zebra chanced to gaze in their direction. Others seemed to have decided that the zebra, being different from them, wasn’t worth the bother to get to know, let alone look at. Still others couldn’t take their eyes off its unique color patterns, seeing the zebra as something exotic and alluring, an object of fantasies. All of these attitudes made the zebra feel dejected and misunderstood. At the end of the day, when the white horses moved nearer to each other and the black horses moved nearer to each other and the zebra found itself alone once more, it could hear the horses of both colors asking themselves the same questions over and over again. Was the zebra white with black stripes? Was the zebra black with white stripes? They simply didn’t know what to make of it. “You can’t be both black and white at the same time, can you?” the horses of each color repeated to themselves in the darkness. “Why not?” the zebra for its part wondered in silence.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans