Like so many of us, I'm still trying to get past the fallacies I was taught as a child, romantic ideologies not fitting into the box of reality we live in. Media did most of it. Saturday morning cartoons, cheery bible-belt teachers, Disney, they all had their part to play and now I must suffer for it.
Case in point:
Love isn't something you have to work on, but rather is placed at your feet, if only when you least expect it, waiting to carry you off into Happily-Ever-After, where the Good Guys win, Justice is bound to prevail, and there is something out there, some invisible, sentient intelligence that knows us better than we do.
That it's a "he."
And that He cares.
Tooth and nail, I fought for these things, not simply for me, but for those around me, because the Good Guys, the ones that fight out of Love, are the ones that win. This was Justice met by a Higher Power.
It takes a special kind of person to ignore the tragedies around them in exchange for a handful of hope, but I did it, willing that hope into a flaming sword of righteousness I'd use to right the wrongs of the world.
But when I went to raise this sword in battles, both semantic and literal, I would close my hand around the hilt, only to find the sword short, the blade dull, and me ill-prepared for the war of Life.
Love can be bought, traded, or cast aside like pennies, the Good Guys are only the ones that write the history, Justice is an intangible fluid that can't be grasped, and, as important as anything, "He" never spoke to me.
And what's worse, the adults I'd come to admire had reached the same conclusions.
There is no Higher Power. Only Us. And we only give so much of a shit.
And then I met the lions.
It was bright and early, my eyes not yet used to the light of the morning, when my phone rang. Five lion cubs had been born at the local zoo where two friends of mine worked, both wanting to afford me the opportunity to play with these little beasts.
I was there practically before I hung up the phone, finding myself in a concrete enclosure with a pride of baby lions. They were about the size of house cats, though that's where their similarities stopped. With huge paws, pronounced canines, and eyes that glittered gold, these were clearly a breed that belonged on the steppe, tails twitching as they ready themselves to pounce.
Certainly not frolicking with me.
So I cherished the moment, their claws stabbing into my legs, their teeth biting into my shoulders and arms.
Never was a pain more welcome.
I'd later wait for people to ask me where all the bruises had come from, only to smile and sincerely state "Lions."
But at the time, these wild things, these terrible monsters, meowing and playing and kicking at one another with acutely aware abandon, were little kittens only playing at being big cats. It seemed pure in a way that isn't found in the monotony of day-to-day.
Pure and beautiful.
And time passed, like it does, forcing the mini-tour to come to a swift conclusion. But before I was to leave, I would get to see the mother of these cubs.
Walking into an adjacent room, the smell of her was a musky slap to my frontal lobe, yelling "Wake up!" to the otherwise lucid, happy time I was having.
As I approached, my heart pounding, my soul whispering fear into my consciousness before I even met her, I was filled with a strange honor and humility to the moment, the steel mesh screen between us doing little to stop her low grumble. She lay under a blanket of shadow, her lithe muscles springing into action at her slightest movement. She lifted her head as the door closed behind me, the smell of her cubs undoubtedly raising her awareness.
And then I locked eyes with her.
And the steel mesh fell away, along with the room, leaving her growling, the quick rhythm and depth of it like claws ascending chakras.
Then she spoke to me. And she said this:
"I see you, Robert. I know you. I know the sweet, wondrous ideas that you had as a child. The sense of hope and awe you felt as you went on nature walks, when you watched Saturday morning cartoons, or when you heard hymns. I know the abuse it took for you to lose these things. Abuse in too many horrible forms. The drugs and violence you, in turn, took hold of in order to make sense and be a part of this world. I know that you have fought until everything that summed you up bled out and then you kept going. And I know you did this because you still secretly harbor a crazy, fanatic hope for this life. Because of an undying love for the world that you can't shake off."
The rumble was lower than any gun blast. Lower than any motorcycle or muscle car they make.
And it took a few seconds to form the growl into her final words.
"But know this, boy."
Her golden eyes began shimmering like a hologram and, without blinking, she leaned forward, her voice deepening, the gravity of her words spoken with paced patience.