Once, in Detroit, when my last sales appointment of the day cancelled, I went to the zoo.
Detroit has a good zoo, with lots to look at and to admire. One of the things they have is a lion house. That is, there is an outside yard for the lions, with rocks and a cliff, and with grass and trees. There is also an inside house for the lions to retreat into, which is through a crevice in the cliff where the cliff comes down.
Visitors may watch the lions outside, but they may also go into the lions’ inside lair and watch the big cats there, too.
I stood for a long time outside, pressed against the fence around the lion’s yard, watching the lions as they sauntered or lay still. I had owned lots of cats in my life, and, while I watched the lions, I entertained myself with the assurance that I held a deep appreciation for cats as a species, and that enjoyed a canny level of communication with them.
Most noteworthy among the lions was one magnificent male at the height of his nobility and kingliness. Perhaps eight feet long, with rippling muscles at the shoulders and hips, his regal head was topped with a full mane of black hair. His tail was a whip with which to express his emotion.
The favorite among my own cats had been Beamish. A magnificent male in his house-cat’s own right, Beamish possessed the strength and dexterity, from a sitting position, next to an open door, suddenly to spring into the air and to land, balanced perfectly, on the top edge of the door itself, without his landing causing the door to swing at all.
While I remembered Beamish, my big male lion occupied the rest of my attention. I ranged back and forth along the lion cage fence, trying to stay close to him as he surveyed the scene and kept the lionesses under the strictness of his eye. In time, though, he grew weary of this entertainment and made his way to the crevice into the cliff and went inside.
I followed him inside and discovered that I could get nearer to him inside than outside. Now, he was in a vertically barred cage, alone for the moment. There was a single horizontal railing keeping me away from the cage. The gap between the railing and the cage was about eight feet. When outside, I had been about forty feet away from my lion. Now, I was standing next to him!
Here—I thought—was Beamish, but in his wildest imagining. Here was Beamish into whose eyes I had often stared, nose to nose, sometimes for ten minutes at a time, neither one of us blinking. In those minutes of communication, it had seemed to me that Beamish and I were both drinking in the holy similitude of our natures. Of course, the unenlightened might deny the brotherhood of Beamish and I and speak of differences between species, but we knew better, we did.
Just so did I now stare into the eyes of my lion.
Here was a lion of Daniel’s command!
Due to our depth of sharing of all that is weighty in God’s universe, we two—my lion and I—we knew things together. My lion had the power of savagery, but we knew things together, he and I. If the need had arisen, I knew he would have muted his savagery, and he would have lain his chin on his forepaws and purred at me, and he would have allowed me to stroke his nose.
We two Romantics, my lion and me, we certainly knew how Keats or Shelley should have written of us, or how the German Romantics should have painted us. They should have shown us urgent in a swirl of cloudy fog, atop a crag, with our eyes staring into a vastness of cosmic possibility.
Even now, my lion and I, we held one another’s eyes in affection and—dare I saw it, reader—in love!
Perhaps, even, here in my lion at the zoo was the very type of Aslan, as C.S. Lewis had known him—Aslan himself, the Christ of Narnia, who loved the children so. Perhaps here before me was the very nobility that called for a self-sacrifice of such purity and of such literary and artistic absoluteness as, finally, to thaw the witch and to turn all Narnain captives free.
Yes, I thought to myself, yes, I can see it now, there in the eye of my lion.
Oh—I gave a figurative toss of my hand--what of his bars?
Did not we, all of us, have bars of our own? Was it so very big a thing in the cosmos that I should be able to walk away from his lion house any time that I wished, when he could not do the same?
From his eye, I understood that he, too, saw our fates as the Romantic puzzlers they were. We were fellow travelers on God’s green earth, he and I, and I was pleased to learn that we each took these puzzlers with the sardonic humor to which they were entitled.
Then my lion “spoke” to me!
At the very height of our conversation, my lion turned his head, turned around, shifted his tail aside, and shot a long stream of hot urine between the bars and accurately across the front of my shirt.
Note to self: Dikkon, remember to distinguish reality from poetry.