I could definitely be considered “emotional”, “intense” (words often used as code for “kookoo”), and easily moved when I witness hardship big or small.
But when I heard what had happened to Cecil the Lion, I didn’t just tear up as when worse tragedies happen – those that involve the loss of human life. For Cecil, I wept like someone I love (God forbid) had passed away.
No doubt, the systemized targeting, hunting, and torture of an unsuspecting animal is heartbreaking. It’s wrong. It’s dark and cruel. And the fact that it was a regal lion, the subject of academic study who had 24 cubs, only makes it more appalling. And, lions are the archetype of strength and nobility in our mythology and human history.
But the part that made me cry the most was the luring and subsequent forty hours of torture. Because in order to be lured to one’s death, one has to be unsuspecting. Innocent. This animal, a predator of sorts in his own kingdom, was trusting and oblivious to a human predator. Cecil blindly followed his own instinct and DNA – his program for sustenance and survival – without knowing what fate awaited him. Cecil’s instincts deceived him. Cecil’s instincts were used against him, to bring him harm.
And yet, tears like that? It gave me pause. Is there some deeper sorrow, some personal chord this event, this loss, struck? I thought of my old, innocent and beloved dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback whose lineage goes back to Zimbabwe where these dogs were bred to be “lion hunters,” (actually, they were lion-herders… a wimpy dog like mine only hunts food in garbage cans). I pictured her being lured, her unsuspecting tail wagging as she cluelessly anticipated a reward, and it saddened me. But no, that’s too easy an analogy.
I thought back on other examples that elicited this kind of disproportionate emotional reaction, and remembered Aslan the lion of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and the image of the White Witch luring him out of his sanctuary before tying him up on a slab before torturing and killing him. Aslan’s face remained regal and still if not a bit sad. That scene leveled me as a child, and still levels me now. Cecil is Aslan, and Walter Palmer the White Witch. And in the aftermath of their death, we cry like children too, the way young Susan and Lucy in the story did:
The moon was getting low and thin clouds were passing across her, but still they could see the shape of the Lion lying dead in his bonds. And down they both knelt in the wet grass and kissed his cold face and stroked his beautiful fur – what was left of it – and cried till they could cry no more.
E.T, the sweet bug-eyed alien in my favorite movie, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, comes to mind too. The last time I wept like I did for Cecil was just a few years ago – when I watched it with my husband, then boyfriend. We had only been dating a few months and the movie happened to be on TV. When E.T gets caught by scientists and is found by Eliot in a ditch, his withering gray body twisted, I looked at my boyfriend, tears streaming down my face and called out with indignation: “He just wants to go home!”
(My husband told me later that was the moment he fell in love with me. Whatever it takes.)
He just wants to go home.
He just wants to be left alone, in his habitat, in his routine, free to be what he was put on this earth for. To live out his purpose with comfort and ease. E.T. just wants to be home. Just like Cecil.
Just like all of us.
When we cry over these ill-fated creatures – like the children cried over Aslan – we are not bestowing their existence with more importance than humans. Certainly not. Perhaps our tears and outrage over their wrongful death reminds us that innocence – our own rightful sense of home – can be shattered in an instant.
The murder of these animals – whether mythological or real – reminds us of the encroaching death of innocence. The flawed and susceptible innocence that lives within us, and in the darkening cruelty of the world we inhabit.