Several months ago I watched a documentary series about Africa on Netflix. I’m not really too big into the wildlife. While the animals are magnificent and fun to watch in their native habitat, I find myself just admiring the background scenes and more importantly the social interactions between the animals in a herd.
Part of that probably stems from the fact that I am so confused by my own social interactions within my own crowd.
I remember sitting in my then boyfriends home while he was at the hospital making rounds and watching this documentary. I wasn’t bored per se but nothing exciting was happening and I was getting kind of depressed at the bleakness that is the African wilderness. Going several years without rain will not make a garden grow and I remember thinking, “Wow. That’s totally depressing. I would hate to live there as an animal. I bet they adapt though. I wonder how?” You know how my brain works by now. One thought leads to another and then another until there is an avalanche of thoughts cascading down the snowy mountain.
So while snacking on some pistachios (which by the way aren’t pistachios delicious? Expensive, but delicious.) and looking at the clock, wondering when my boyfriend would be home, the narrator announces the next segment involved hippopotamuses. This caught my attention and mid pistachio to my mouth, I stopped and turned up the volume.
As a child my father had taken me to the zoo many times and one of my favorite places to visit was the hippo camp. Looking back now, maybe it was because out of all the animals that you could feed in the zoo, the hippos seemed the most appreciative. They would see you with their beady little eyes just above the surface of the water, walk up to the edge of the bridge and slowly make their way closer and then out of nowhere their heads raised dramatically! Mouths opening wide, showing the ugliest teeth possible, but grateful. You could tell! Their eyes showed it all.
Maybe as a child I identified with them in many ways. I was not an energetic child that I remember. I was very appreciative of any food that was given to me and like most children, unless prodded by their parents, I didn’t always brush my teeth. I also didn’t have the self-esteem that these humongous creatures had to just open a mouth that big and have no shame in their game of oral health or lack thereof. (Far-fetched analogy? Maybe. I read into the little things though.)
I loved the hippos.
When I became a mother, I took my son to the zoo and he loved ALL of it. I remember the first time we went I was adamant about visiting the hippos and he would have nothing to do with it. Hippos were boring to him. I was disappointed but made sure that on the way to the other exhibits, we detoured the long way past the hippo camp. We cruised past, him running and me fast walking to keep up and I remember looking over at the water area that once seemed so big and amazing to me. Now it seemed so small, which is often the case when we look back on things as an adult. They never seem as big as what we imagined.
There also wasn’t a hippo in sight.
I was dismayed beyond belief and to be honest I probably went home and cried a little and pondered the meaning of life.
All those feelings based off of hippos.
I did however manage to snag a worker at the zoo and casually asked (OK maybe frantically asked.) where the hippos were. He simply responded, “Gone. We haven’t had hippopotamuses here in forever! Nobody liked them and so we shipped them off to another zoo. Or something. All I know is we don’t have them anymore. It’s a koi pond now.”
Nobody liked them.
All of these memories came back while listening to the narrator talk about life in the desert for these large mammals. I watched as the documentary crew captured the annual migration through night vision goggles, male and females a-like as they congregated at the regions only ample body of water. It’s a ritual of sorts where they come to quench their thirst and cool off at night, only to do the mating dance during the day in the hot African sun.
Two bulls had come upon a cow and were frantically vying for her attention. Each one mounting her unsuccessfully and then wandering off to fight periodically for their manhood. This went on for hours in the sweltering sun and I sat there fascinated
In the end only one bull can be champion and earn the right to breed. The bull who wins, earns the right to stay with that herd for as many years as he would like. The reigning male over his harem of cows.
Sadly, the one who loses is cast away by the other members. He is shunned. I watched him walk up to other’s in the herd and they literally turned their backs and flicked their little tails at him and he really looked depressed. Sad and lonely.
I felt for him. Yes, me a human being watching a documentary about a place far away from me. I was so sad for this hippo. How could a whole herd of hundreds exile him from the only species he could identify with?
Nobody liked him.
The conclusion of that segment showed this defeated bull slowly meandering away from the pod and he never even looked back. Never seemed to question their rudeness like we often do as human beings. He didn’t go on Facebook and rant about being dished out unfair justice or how much he couldn’t stand those “judging hippos who only look to brawn and strength and not what’s on the inside”.
I said those things for him later to my boyfriend when he came home.
“Can you believe that he just had to go away? He couldn’t even stay with his own. It’s not like they had to be friends with him, but he ended up going to this isolated water hole, a mud pit, miles and miles away and just lived by himself. He won’t even go back and try to win again!”
Fast forward several months and many hardships later and my perspective on life has changed drastically, especially over the past month.
It’s true, the saying that is: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I’ve been doing that my whole life it seems.
It begins when we are children. Some of us just didn’t understand that jumping off the couch or bed would continue to result in scraped knees and busted chins. Of course we had our parent’s or an adult nearby who eventually got the message through that we shouldn’t be doing that anymore and hopefully we learned. We either learned to stop jumping off the furniture or we learned how to execute a proper landing that wasn’t our face.
As adults we’re expected to learn this definition on our own for the most part. Especially when it comes to personal experiences. For some it takes longer than others; case in point, me. It has taken me what feels like a lifetime to realize that what I’ve been doing just isn’t working. I also realized why.
I’ve been doing everything I do for everyone else. Not me.
Remember when I had the meltdown over my son’s graduation from high school?
I realized while talking with a friend the other day, that the reason my life seemed to spin out of control beginning with that moment was because I no longer had to live 100% for him anymore. He’s an adult headed for college and cutting the apron strings is paramount to his success. I think, no I know, that my anxiety stemmed from the fact that I had no idea what or who I was living for anymore.
99% of the choices I’ve made in my life over the past 18 years has been with him in mind. That’s not to say that I won’t continue to think about him when I have important things to consider, but the practicality of it is, that now is my time. It’s time to start focusing on me and my own goals that I’ve put on the back burner from the moment I got pregnant.
And that’s OK.
It’s a good thing.
I haven’t had anybody to really live for except my son since my father passed away.
Except I have. Myself. I just didn’t know it until now.
That brings me back full circle to the poor hippos’ in Africa. Specifically, the bull who wandered off to his private little mud hole after it became apparent that he had nothing tying him to the herd.
After thinking about it; putting it into perspective I can do one of two things:
- Feel sorry for him because none of the others had any apparent use for him anymore
- Be excited for him because who knows what might happen at the little mud hole where he now lives alone
I am choosing to be excited for him. It doesn’t rain that often in his area and even though he might be scared and lonely (do hippos even have feelings like that?) what if it does rain and then his mud hole becomes a little pond? What if there are others like him that have been shunned from their herd and they wander into his neck of the woods so to speak?
Well, he’s the creator of his own domain now. There isn’t another bull in charge and nobody to make happy but himself and if he meets new friends then that’s amazing!
You know the more I think about it…maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t because the visitors to the zoo didn’t like the hippos. Maybe the hippos were just misunderstood.
Much like myself.
Those shunning wanna-be’s at the African oasis are missing out too, because I think that awesome lone hippo is going to do great things.
We’re going to do great things.