Burning Blight

So I see that Ang Lee has made a movie out of Yann Martell’s brilliant fantasy The Life of Pi.

This seems a bit ambitious to me, but then, Ang Lee is a genius, so perhaps he can handle it. Yet when I read the book about a boy who survives 227 days in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, I heard much discussion about what, if anything, the tiger symbolized. Was it a metaphor for death? A figment of the boy’s fevered imagination? Or some divine manifestation of the power and majesty of God?

I wanted to believe the tiger was real. You know, like Calvin’s Hobbes but with claws and teeth.

Friends told me I was hopelessly naive. No doubt they were right. Yet now I’m curious to see how my reading of the novel compares with Lee’s visualization.

In fiction, as in life, point of view can clarify or obscure. When you’re high up, looking down, the patterns of human behavior are easier to observe, but only when you’re down on the ground, in the boat with the tiger, can you get a feel for the hunger, the anger, the despair in people’s eyes.

For most of us, our point of view limits our ability to understand one another, and, as history and the daily news remind us, the inability to empathize can be fatal. When point of view provokes point of gun, everyone loses.

This is what the tiger means to me.

The tiger is the cornered beast, the itchy trigger finger that lurks deep in the psyche of every soul. And we are all in this boat together.

Unless we tame our tigers, the outlook is bleak. As the fires of bigotry and religious fervor rage hotter across the world, we would do well to remember that absolutes rarely are. Everything depends on perspective. Now more than ever, as the world tilts toward chaos, it’s imperative that cooler heads prevail.

It’s harder to make peace than to provoke war. But to stir up hatred for political gain is the lowest form of evil – the methodology of fascists.

So let’s all take a deep breath and look this tiger in the eyes and try not to make any sudden moves. We could still make it to the shore if we don’t panic.

But never forget, tigers can swim.