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This morning, I watched a recording of an unusual reunion.
Back in 1969, two men adopted a lion cub. Within a year, the cub had outgrown the furniture store in which it had been living in downtown London, so the men contacted a lion specialist in Kenya to help integrate Christian, as they called their pet, into the wild.
It worked. Within several months, the lion had adapted completely. But the men hadn’t. They missed Christian, and came for a visit nine months after his release.
The video shows what happened when the three met up: the lion walking slowly toward his former caretakers, the men calling his name and urging him forward, the lion running at the men and then hugging them, literally throwing its enormous paws on their shoulders and snuggling up to their faces.
The men are grinning and crying while the lion repeatedly jumps up on them, pushing his fur against their cheeks.
I remember once I didn’t see my dog for a semester, and our reunion went nothing like this. I opened the crate when we got outside the airport, and he ran past me, looking for a good tree.
So, for this and many other reasons, I have trouble believing in the authenticity of this piece of footage. But I don’t even care if it’s true. The joy looked real. Watching it changed my morning. It made me jealous – not because my pet is so reserved in comparison but because, for the most part, so is everyone I come in contact with.
Rarely are people that unabashedly happy to see each other. Instead, most of us walk around in a bad mood, complaining about relatively minor problems and bemoaning our imperfect lives. Most of us, it seemed to me this morning, do little to make life any better for anyone else or even to at least not make life worse.
Then I started thinking about all the mistakes I make. I mess up here at the newspaper all the time. I’m not always a great editor or considerate in how I handle my shortcomings.
In general, I am brash, crude, unprofessional, awkward and maybe worst of all, I sometimes don’t take other people’s feelings or reactions seriously.
Every day, I wish I were more solicitous and that people could count on me to say the kindest, gentlest words. However I act, I think people’s feelings might be the only human thing worth being serious about.
But nonetheless, in the most stubborn part of my mind, I judge people harshly.
If you get divorced, someone you love dies or some other terribly sad thing happens, I will not laugh at or criticize you in your grief.
But those aren’t the reasons people get so upset most of the time – I include my own reasons here, or, even as insensitive as I am, I wouldn’t go on like this.
Real tragedies are not what keep most of us from being happy to see each other.
Now don’t worry: I’m not going to tell you what my problems are, or list a bunch of small things that I imagine cause you to lose your cool. You get my point: We let mistakes and thoughtlessness come between us, both our own and other people’s.
And there’s nothing we can do about it, because humankind is hopelessly flawed.
I’m not even being pessimistic. We’re dunces. Most of us can’t get through a day without doing or saying something regrettable. We’re selfish, vain, distracted and unfair.
So – as grown-ups, who know all of this all too well – why do we spend so much time angry and frustrated? Not to be melodramatic, but why do we waste our lives?
And while I don’t think we need to attack each other with kisses every time we say hello, I do wish people more obviously liked each other a little more.
Because for all humanity’s laments, we have our flipside. Within imperfection, we manage a few commendable moments. We step up. We do the “right thing.” We keep the mean thought to ourselves. We remember to do whatever it was we forgot last time that caused so many problems. We are capable and nice. Someone smiles, thinking of us.
These are the surprises – not the tedious errors we pile on each day. Why don’t we think about the few things that stand out, instead of the thick mass of indignities glommed onto our hunching spines?
I think we should let a person know when he or she messes up, but then drop it. Why keep reminding each other of our faults?
Moping, complaining, berating, insulting, regretting – these strategies don’t work. They don’t help anyone. They add nothing worthwhile to anyone’s morning. So when people behave this way, I can’t take them seriously. But it’s not the feelings I don’t respect. It’s the uselessness.
The really tragic stuff will happen to all of us, if it hasn’t already. Can’t we at least enjoy the time between disasters?
E-mail Kelly your greatest reunion stories at firstname.lastname@example.org