Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lions in Cages

What is your biggest fear?  This is mine:

On a particularly humid day, I stand in front of the dense, smudgy glass that has been the subject of countless gropes and smears of children and adults alike.  The glare of the sun is intense and the scorching heat that comes with the evening's approach has me wondering why I chose to wake up so late in the day, and subsequently, why I chose to go to the zoo.  As I wipe away a running bead of sweat from my brow, I lean in and squint to catch a glimpse at what's on the other side of the safety glass.

Inside this cage is the deadly Lion that is known to be the "King of the Jungle."  An animal of ferocity and and strength that has earned itself pride and glory throughout the savanna.  Few have bare witness to that magnificent roar, a bellow that marks the lion's wish to be heard, its statement of existence.

This beautiful specimen is in this very cage and every person who has stopped on their casual walk through the 'Africa' section has taken extra time at this exhibit to capture a photo of this 400lbs killer.

Here I stand waiting with the crowd as I struggle to make out anything  that resembles a giant man-eating cat within the tan slabs of rock, but the cage appears empty.  On lookers continue on their way while a child asks, "Where's the lion, Daddy?" with which he replies, "They must be sleeping, sweetheart.  Let's go find Mommy."

I continue to stand and wait.

There is no way that I am leaving without seeing a lion when I walked and stood this long in the heat.  All I could think of was how typical it is that the one animal on display that I actually want to see isn't even out. I mean, come on, you're a feline that lives in Africa, I'm sure you can deal with the heat.  I let out a sigh as I fan my shirt to cool off my now sweaty torso and I take one last look toward the dark hole which appears to lead to the lion's den.

As if my wish had been answered, a large male lion emerges from the darkness, slowly scoping out its surroundings.  It pats the rocky floor of its cage and begins to walk toward the glass with careful precision.

I take a step forward, excited to catch an up-close encounter with the beast, and luckily for me there are no people to obstruct my view.  I continue to expect him to stop and turn toward another point of interest at any moment, but he continues to walk a straight line toward the glass, like he's being called over.  He continues his slow, surreptitious approach until he reaches the face of the glass where he heavily drops himself onto the ground with a great 'thud,' landing in a position facing me.

Wow!  I stand in amazement as I gaze at his massive body.  The beast is almost twice my size and judging from how close I am to his face, I'm sure my head could fit right in his mouth.  I start to feel uneasy at the idea that only a strong layer of glass separates me from this deadly apex predator, however, it doesn't stop me from leaning my face inches away from the glass.  His mane remains fluffed and full while the rest of his coat shimmers a healthy shine in the sun's rays.

I examine the lion.  I see his large paws with sharp visceral claws, his refined and aged fangs, and I see his eyes.

My eyes meet with those of the lion and in that moment, the excitement that had once overwhelmed me disappears and is replaced with a feeling of deep empathy.

I am supposed to be staring a proud lion in the eyes, yet nothing behind those cold black veils holds any life or flare that is to be expected from such a dangerous beast.  Where is the commanding presence?  Where is the subtle confidence of a predator that knows no equal?  My mind fills with questions and I am soon both depressed and disgusted at the sight in front me.

This lion is lost.  It's obvious from his vacant stare and his dull, meager acknowledgement of his surroundings that he has been broken, defeated in his confinement.  You are a dangerous killer.  You should should be roaring, fighting, and raging against the four walls that contain you from freedom.  You should be clawing and snarling at the glass to try and rip my head off due to pure hatred, not passively laying before me.  Where did it all go?

Suddenly, I begin to imagine a young lion, a bright and proud beast that has proven his worth in the hunt.  He's taken and placed in a world that he does not understand, and consequently, it matters none that he is the killer that he is.  He paces the floor of his cage, each way met with a wall that further denies him from his former self.  Each day he is forced to submit, each day he gives up his pride until finally he is an old lion that no longer remembers his own essence.

I continue to stare at the lion in this cage and I can't bare to see him just sit there anymore.  Behind his stare, behind all his lost days, is his sad acceptance of his reality, and it is this that haunts me.

I turn to look away and notice a group of kids running to come see the now visible lion.  I begin to walk away and I think to myself, "Have fun, kids, but you won't be seeing a lion in there."
In college we're pumped full of idealistic beliefs and hype that we are the future that is to come and change the world for the better.  We take up causes and correct others on misinformed assumptions thinking that this is all we can do for the moment.  We're filled with eager potential and sharp minds that imagine a tomorrow that we have helped usher into existence.  We beat our chests and yell to be heard because we eventually want to be remembered for something that matters. This is what our liberal arts education has given us.

But then, we graduated and it hasn't been long since I have noticed a harsh reality:  we have graduated into a world that has no place for us.  In 2010, almost half the graduates with a bachelors degree were working at jobs that didn't even require a college education.  This statistic hasn't changed much in recent years, so that's 5 years of backlog since the economy tanked, which has people looking for jobs anywhere they can.  And, once the jobs do open up, they would go to the upcoming graduating class and not to those that have painfully worked as being a waiter, or car technician, or customer service rep to pay the bills after college.

It's an implicit block from hiring our generation when most jobs require 1-2 years of experience or a Masters degree, leaving no entry level positions for the new applicants.  There are ways through networking and connections, but the people who don't have that way in are hosed.

It's hard to find a job in the liberal arts field that is relevant to your major; however, it's even harder to pursue a career of your interest.  Eventually you're left being told to take anything that comes your way because, supposedly, "a job is a job."

I don't want this for me.  I will be, and will always remain, an idealist and I will live my life by setting my own example.  I understand that the job market is in shambles and that getting a job, let alone a job that you want, is by sheer luck these days, but I refuse to settle.

I go about my day trying to make my place in this world by doing what I want to do, but that's not how it works anymore.  The jobs I want, they're out of reach because of the illogical shut out of the inexperienced, yet fully capable, recent graduates.  What is left are the jobs that society then tells me that I'm "capable" of having, and that is in administrative work for fields of which I have no interest.

So I continue to walk down new paths and explore new options only to be met with more walls, glass ceilings, and red tape.  These restrictions made in the professional world that continue to move me away from the career that I want and toward spots that devalue my intelligence.  It's frustrating, it's depressing, and above all, it's disillusioning.

I begin to question whether I can make it, or if I should just swallow my pride and just settle with that job that I hate for the time being, but I'm reminded of that lion.  I recall his dark defeated eyes and can't allow myself to end up the same way.

I won't allow myself to be broken or defeated by a system that protects a status quo that prevents me from reaching my goals and dreams.  I won't pace the cage and let myself forget my drive and aspirations because of my current circumstances.

That's my biggest fear, the thing that I constantly fight against.

I'm afraid that one day I'll end up just like that old lion, in a place for which I feel nothing but absolute contempt.  But to be specific, I'm afraid that someday someone will look into my eyes and feel sympathy at the wasted potential, the same way I did when I gazed at that lion in that cage.

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