After the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, a news story emerged about a 130 year old giant tortoise named Mzee and a baby hippo named Owen. Owen had lost his family in the tsunami and was orphaned. By all appearances, Mzee adopted him. Owen never left his side.
At the same time, there were news stories about the human death tolls and the brutal destruction of coastal villages. No one reported about the human grandmother that took in, as foster children, the human babies that were orphaned. No one reported about the two Red Cross workers that serendipitously met in the aftermath, who joyously fell in love. And no one mentioned how beautiful and calm the sky looked in the days after the tsunami, as if beauty is vulgar in the face of tragedy.
Transformation can look, feel, and behave, a whole lot like a tsunami. No one lives a life without disruption. Happiness, fulfillment, success, and love, happen despite the disruption, and sometimes because of it.
Since I don’t want to judge the breaking down part (the part that includes painful re-direction), I looked for the story of Owen and Mzee. They made it all the way to their happy ending – the part of life that makes life worth living – the part that allows for the normalization of loss and struggle.
Furthermore, animals remind me that we ourselves are animals. And though we have complex minds and emotional lives, we are just as much a part of the circle of life as our four legged friends. If Mzee has the humility to cuddle with a baby hippo, can’t I also give nurture to those who are unlike me? If Owen has the resilience to trot alongside Mzee, can’t I be a companion too, with anyone at all, even if I don’t understand them?
It’s our own choice these days to feel at home with those who are different, as the world becomes global and equal. Only the animal news stories remind me of how to feel in the face of this wonderful change. In human news, there is argument and division. Meanwhile, in the story of the baby cow that was adopted by dogs, or the woman who befriended a wingless bee, or the bear, the tiger, and the lion who are best friends at a wildlife sanctuary, we can witness our innate desire to build bridges and be at peace, and this feels better to me – more remarkable, and more true.
Some might ask how I could reject the “real” news for animal news, but we should all know by now that news is constructed. The news is a series of stories about those things that are atypical. A tsunami hits and it makes the news when there are million sunny days in other places. It’s not that I have a need to look at only sunny days. I just want to look at the tsunami and love it too, for what it brought into the world, instead of being angry for what it took away.