As the story goes, when two dominant jungle cats – a tiger and a lion – met in the wilderness, the lion slowly retreated. Was it afraid? No. Each had the potential to kill the other; but, each valued life more.
My mother use to say Uncle Lyle, “… had a temper if he wanted to use it.” Her deference for acting out in anger might have come from her dad who enjoyed a good donnybrook. I’m sure he seldom used human relations skills. No, to grandpa, it was his way or the highway – period! People learned not to provoke him or “poke the eye of the tiger.”
Now, decades later, I’m face-to-face with a tiger’s rage.
At first, I didn’t know what was causing the commotion. Along with adults, and a disembarked school bus of secondary students, we were standing on the sidewalk waiting for the theatre doors to open. Unhappy with this, a man armed with a walker, was ramming his way through the crowd – people scrambling to get out of his way.
Some stuff fell off his walker when he ran over a friend’s foot.
Instinctively, I bent to help pick up his things when – with a serene expression – he asks me for some spare change. I was incredulous. Considering his rude behavior, I said, “You picked the wrong time.”
“It’s the eye of the tiger / it’s the thrill of the fight / risin’ up to the challenge of our rival” – The Eye of the Tiger by Survivor
His outrage was explosive! Publicly chastised, his eyes glared with resentment. And, there I stood – guilty of poking the eye of the tiger with a judgement stick.
So now, standing up straight, to the full extent of his six-foot-plus frame, he rained down on me a tirade of expletives… a fearful symmetry snarling out the words, “Then, when is the right time?” I stood transfixed: my mind playing a Lightfoot soundtrack… about waves turning minutes to hours.
Locked within each other’s gaze, I searched his eyes to discern what he was truly feeling. What I saw haunts me still: a belittled man fighting for survival… with precious little to call his own, except his dignity, which I’d just trashed.
“He’s not selling any alibis / As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes” – Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan
What was the right time? It was what he, me and everyone knew: “Not today.” Only, now, I wish I had been the bigger person; but was slow of heart.
By contrast, I interviewed Order of Canada recipient Anna Kaljas. For years, hundreds of homeless people have stayed in her Kitchener homes – that include homemade meals. She asked, “Why do people put them down? – they’ve been put down all their lives.” Saying, they’ve places for stray cats and dogs; yet, no room for those unlucky enough to find themselves out on the street… looking for shelters and food banks.
And, even though we may not have homes to offer; may we still have room in our hearts for understanding and kindness.