Once upon a time a baby giraffe was born. He was handsome, chubby and seemed perfectly formed…except for his legs. They were too short, you see? The other animals crowded around, making sympathetic sounds. This little giraffe, they all agreed, would not amount up to much.
Giraffes, like we all know, need good, strong legs. Without them, they can’t reach the succulent leaves at the top of the acacia trees – and they can’t run away from the many predators in the woods. A short-legged giraffe has no chance.
Still, his parents gave him a name – Oscar – and tried to raise him as normally as possible. Uncle owl suggested stilts, which nephew Baboon made from strong the bamboo stems. At first the little giraffe struggled to remain upright, but then something strange happened: his mother discovered that he was extremely strong-willed. Oscar refused to give up. This, of course, made his family very proud. Maybe, they thought, the little disadvantaged giraffe will be able to fend for himself, after all.
Something else happened inside the young animal’s mind: he was determined to show them – all of them, especially those who had said he wouldn’t make it – that he would be the best. The fastest. The strongest. In fact, the most famous of them all.
As the bamboo stems dried out, little Oscar found they bent when he put his weight on them. Then, when he shifted his balance, the bamboo would spring back to being straight. Initially, this unexpected quality of the stems caught him off-guard, and his family had to help him up time and again. But later, quite a bit later, young Oscar used this spring-like effect to propel him at amazing speeds across the veld.
Now: everybody loves a winner. They started taking bets: could young Oscar run faster than Lion?
What about rabbit?
Oscar left him eating dust.
By now, the animals all wanted to be friends with the speeding, short-legged giraffe with his bamboo legs. Sympathy turned into adoration. And the strong-willed and almost-no-longer-disadvantaged giraffe soaked up the admiration. He liked the way the other animals deferred to him, allowing him the best grazing spots, the coolest bits of shade and the nicest place at the waterhole. They laughed at all his jokes. And, because he was so fast, even the predators and the carnivores kept their distance.
Sadly, Oscar developed what the other animals whispered about as ‘a bit of an attitude‘. Nothing much, you understand? It’s just that he became a bit arrogant. And…who could blame him? He was the best, wasn’t he? And should not the best, expect the best? So sometimes – not often – he’d growl and grumble (giraffes do this rather quietly) to show his displeasure if things didn’t quite please him.
Then something terrible happened. One night – quite late – the young giraffe took off his bamboo stilts to lay down. He did this every night, you see, to allow his short legs to rest before he strutted out his prowess for all to see in the morning.
And something happened. During a dark and stormy night the young giraffe did the unthinkable. He lost control.
Nobody is sure, but it became abundantly clear that Oscar did something so terrible, so completely horribly detestable, that all the other animals turned away in shock and shame.
And now something even worse occurred: the animals brayed for blood. His blood. The situation became bad enough for other animals from other parts of the forest came to see how the young giraffe was made to pay for his transgression.
And the young giraffe cried.
And he couldn’t fix the horrible thing he had done.
And then he died. He still breathed, of course, but his strong will was broken and his bamboo legs were to slow and too short to carry away from the shame and the grief he had caused.
And for the rest of his miserable life, the only thing he could hear, was the braying for blood and revenge. When he died eventually – really stopping breathing this time – his last request was that his funeral pyre be stoked with the bamboo stems that once made him famous.
There’s a moral to the story, of course.
We’re all born with disabilities – some are a bit more obvious than others. Over time, we overcome these defects and we strive to live normal lives. A select few of us will even become famous for what we’ve achieved. Some will thrive on the attention and the fame and the adoration. And then, inevitably, Icarus flies too near the sun and the wax melts and the wings come off.
And we fall…
Then, those of us who are spectators on such a tragedy have a choice: Either we join the carnivore choir for blood and revenge – or we become silent as we contemplate the sad and grim reality of those involved with the Fall have to live with.
Maybe that little giraffe made the worst mistake of his life – willingly or not – and this affected those closely involved in the most negative way. Maybe his life and way of doing things were not solely the result of some birth defect. Maybe the animals who made him believe he could fly with his waxed wings of bamboo legs were responsible as well.
Or maybe the worst thing about the fable is not the horrible deed that was done…but the way the other animals brayed for blood afterwards.
As if they lived blameless lives…