I received an email the other day with a lovely story about Christian the Lion. The poignant clip touches our deepest, most primal emotions, illustrating the ties between man and animal. However, the full story is much more profound, parable-like in quality, and offers lessons for today’s citizenry.
The story is about two young Englishmen, John and Ace, who purchase a lion cub from a prominent London department store. While they recognized early on that their relationship with the lion might be short lived – John and Ace lived in a small apartment in swinging, hippy London – they developed a deep and abiding love for the cub they had named Christian. As Christian grew, John and Ace realized that for Christian to fulfill his lion heritage, he would have to be returned to the wild. A chance encounter introduced John and Ace to George Adamson of Born Free fame who had raised a lion cub called Elsa in Kenya then rehabilitated it into the wild. (Read more) And so, at about a year old, John and Ace transferred Christian to a nature reserve in Kenya.
Christian’s maturation from lion cub to full grown male is fascinating, emotional, compelling, and turbulent. Christian had to adapt to a wild environment, populated with fellow lions competing for territory and power. He had to learn how to acquire food, how to operate within a lion hierarchy, how to build and lead his own pride. His acclimation was tough and progress was choppy. In the end, though, Christian elected to live out his life somewhere in the Kenyan grasslands as lions have since time immemorial. And it is thanks to John and Ace that Christian had that choice.
Purchased on a lark, John and Ace could have made a different decision for Christian’s future. They could have elected to transfer Christian to a zoo where he would have received excellent care for life. Such a decision would have also meant that John and Ace could have maintained their relationship with their beloved lion. But they made a much tougher decision, and one that gave Christian the freedom to live out his life to the fullest.
How is this story a parable? Today, American citizens are facing similar life changing decisions. Do we want to be cared for by someone else? Do we want to depend on authorities outside ourselves to provide for our every need? Or do we want to maintain our freedoms? As Christian’s story shows, freedom is not easy, risk free, or without responsibilities. Freedom is hard but the rewards are immense. Do we want to earn the rewards that being free avails or do Americans want to relinquish their freedom and hand over responsibilities to the government? If we relinquish our freedom, we had better understand the consequences. Not all zoos are like the National Zoo. Some are like the zoo that housed Christian’s parents – an open air cage.
I wrote this in 2009. Half a generation later, the same challenge presents itself.