There once was a small, unassuming gazelle that never knew her parents. She remembered something of them… a scent, a vision… but knew nothing of who they were. At a young age she had been kept caged as a spectacle. Her beauty and grace alone brought her these many strange admirers that she would glance at through her metal bars. Other animals didn’t seem to understand. Other animals knew no other reality but the bars, the people, the prison of this place. But the gazelle had dreams, or maybe they were memories, of a different place. A free place where she would one day live.
The other animals would talk about the safety they found behind these bars, the protection and provision that this place gave them. Whispers could be heard about the dangers and risks outside the zoo. “One cannot trust another when one is completely free. At least here we are safe and comfortable,” a peacock announced as he strutted for the crowd. But the gazelle wasn’t satisfied. She wanted more. She wanted freedom even if it came with risk and pain.
A few years passed and the gazelle grew older, but no less hungry for that familiar yet distant idea of freedom. Every waking and sleeping moment found her dreaming of wide open fields and unending waters. Her desire grew stronger as rumors spread of the zoo closing its doors. Maybe I’ll be sent where I belong, she thought. She didn’t really know where that was, but she knew she needed to be there. She started seeing other animals shoved into crates and cages and carted off into large moving trucks. Maybe those bring the way to freedom.
It was finally the gazelle’s turn to be packed away and for some time her prison became even smaller as she leapt into the open cage meant for her. Freedom was close. She could feel it. After a long journey, the cage was flung open and the gazelle slowly, hesitantly inched her way out. Everything shone with an intensity that she had never experienced before. She closed her gentle eyes for relief from the radiance and commotion around her. When she was finally able to open them again, though, the land that lay before her was her freedom. And she leapt and ran for joy in this new, exciting world.
The gazelle learned many things about this new world in just a short time. She learned that food was no longer scheduled and provided for her, but that she was suppose to find it herself. She learned that water came out of lakes, rivers, and puddles instead of plastic. She learned that sometimes there was no relief from her thirst, hunger or fatigue. And she learned that freedom is often lonely.
She was busy and excited for a month or so. Finding new birds to watch or new places to eat or ponds to lay by. Life was exactly how she knew it was meant to be. She had the feeling this is how her parents lived. But soon the young gazelle grew tired of this new place. Every day there was so much responsibility, so much work, so many choices. And every day she was alone. Until that fateful day.
It seemed like a normal day. The gazelle did her usual routine, by herself. But as she was grazing in a new field, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. She had learned that the rumors about danger in freedom were true so this new presence made her uneasy. She tried to casually walk away from it but something about its movement drew her gaze. She had yet to see the full figure but she knew it was another animal. An animal she had never seen before. She was fascinated and excited by the prospect of a companion.
She knew enough not to approach this strange creature but still found herself moving closer and closer to it until its full figure was in her view. Never before had she seen such a beautiful, sleek and majestic thing. Even though something inside of seemed to hold her back.. warn her, she moved even closer. Finally she could no longer be ignored, but instead of a normal welcome the stranger began coming toward her with increased speed. Such a moment of intensity left the gazelle frozen, unable to move, though her own danger now seemed apparent. After what seemed like hours, but was only a few seconds, the gazelle started running away. Heart-pounding. Not knowing if what she felt was fear or attraction. But, after being in a cage for years, she was no match for this stranger.
Once this cat-like creature caught the gazelle, there was a single moment, a choice, a connection between the two animals. The gazelle helpless in the grips of this immense creature but the creature loosened its grip, let the gazelle step back and chose something different. The gazelle could barely breathe, knowing her innocence got her in this danger. For she had never known that cheetahs and gazelles were not meant to live in the closeness, the intimacy that she so desired. But, why, why did the cheetah stop?
The cheetah, as shocked by his decision as the shaking gazelle, paused for another second feeling a sort of pity for this new animal. Pity is not a feeling he was use to feeling at the top of the food chain and he didn’t like it. So to break the silence and confusion he told the gazelle who he was, he told her his story. The gazelle didn’t know what to say, she felt powerless in front of this predator but loved the way he spoke, with passion, commitment, determination. She felt like she could trust him, despite his teeth, which were a constant reminder of the risk to choose to be close to him.
That day was the day that changed everything. The gazelle and the cheetah were inseparable. The danger, the excitement, the attraction between these two unlikely partners was intoxicating drawing each of them closer and closer. Now the gazelle had someone to protect her, to play with her, to be with her. Now the cheetah had a partner that forced him to slow down, to feel, to remember. The gazelle just kept thinking, I knew freedom was worth the risk.
But after a while, the cheetah started hearing his friends talk about his new friend. He knew that they were disappointed, confused, upset. Why would a cheetah need or want a gazelle? He must be weak, they would taunt. The cheetah sulked. No one calls me weak, he thought. And the next day he would show them, he would show himself that he was strong. That he didn’t need anyone else.
So the gazelle and the cheetah met at their normal spot. The gazelle excited to tell the cheetah all about the beautiful things she dreamt of last night, but the moment the connection between them was made, the gazelle knew something was wrong. This was the first time since their meeting she saw a fear, yet an anger in his eyes. She moved away but not quick enough. The cheetah in one motion clawed his friend. The gazelle let out a yell of pain loud enough for the cheetah’s friends to hear, but the cheetah showed no remorse.
The gazelle stayed away from the cheetah, healing her wounds both from his claws and from his detachment. What had happened? I thought we were friends? Did I do something wrong?, the gazelle obsessed. She replayed every conversation, every touch, every look they had shared hoping to find an answer to this burst of hurt, of anger, of pain. But she couldn’t find any so she started blaming herself… I knew I wouldn’t be good enough for him. He is bored of me. I don’t excite him anymore. And suddenly the gazelle’s freedom became another prison.
Meanwhile, the cheetah came home proud to his friends. He had proved them wrong. He was strong. He was a true predator. But when his friends were gone. He was left alone. And in that space of self-reflection, the truth lay exposed. What have I done? he thought. She was my friend and I hurt her for no reason but to feel better about myself? I am worthless. She should get as far away from me as possible. But how do I go on without her?
The next day the gazelle, hoping to make things right with her friend, wandered over to their meeting place, head down, cautiously waiting. The cheetah saw her and ran to her, but in that moment the gazelle thought he came to finish what he had started and began to run away. Before she got far, though, the cheetah gasped, “I’m sorry, you’re perfect, what would my life be without you?” And the gazelle was stopped in her tracks. Without turning around she said, “How can you say that? Do you know how bad you hurt me?” The cheetah fell to the ground in remorse begging for the gazelle to forgive him. He needed her, in that moment, and she liked that.
Things went back to normal after that. In fact, their intimacy increased after sharing such an intense experience and they grew closer and more entangle in each others lives, but every few days that cheetah would claw at her once more opening afresh old wounds and scars. And every few days the cheetah would apologize and the gazelle would build him back up again. The cheetah would say, “Only with you can I learn to be better, to think before I act, to see things differently.” And the gazelle would be drawn even further into her need for him.
But she started hurting all the time. Wounds wouldn’t heal and more would appear. She knew she could no longer love this cheetah. For his very survival depended on her destruction. For she noticed that every day with him her glittering world of freedom became a little more like the cage she use to know. Slowly the cheetah began convincing her that he was all she needed. That the birds and the sun and the ponds and the grass were all meaningless without him for he could save her. But even his intimate touch felt like a sharp pain to her badly scarred body.
One day the cheetah showed up at their normal meeting place ready to play this day’s game of chase, but the gazelle was no where to be found. He searched, frantically, but there was no sign of her presence around him. The gazelle had left. She had remembered. She had recaptured freedom, the freedom she once knew. For she learned that even without bars, even without cages, freedom is elusive. Freedom is not something to be obtained, owned or held on to. The gazelle now saw freedom as knowing, in the deepest parts of yourself, that you deserve to be whole, to be alive, to be healed. And the gazelle chose that freedom.