Gorillas, Gators, and Fears, Oh My!

“Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!”

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

No one is safe. Dorothy, Tin Man, and Scarecrow were right to fear wild animals. They’re unpredictable, they’re capable, and we’re far too gullible. But if we’ve learned anything at all in the month of June, it’s that any one of us can wind up on the headlines of a viral news story that involves children and animals. Parents, this is even truer for you. Hide your kids, hide your wife.

The latest headline is with an alligator attacking a toddler at Disney World hotel in Florida. (It's not like Florida hasn't experienced enough trauma for one week, right? Christina Grimmie, the Orlando Massacre, and now this.) Tragically, the two year old boy drowned and all hope that the parents had was lost.

I can't fathom the kind of pain the mother and father are experiencing right now. I'm sure the husband is playing and replaying last night over in his head; blaming himself for his son's death. For this dad, Father's Day will be a day of sorrow and regret. An Unhappy Father's Day.

As if the event itself wasn't horrific enough, people on social media aren't going to give these bereaved parents a break. "Why didn't they do everything they could to stop the gator?" "Why were they swimming at night in the first place!?" Here is some more sad news. If something horrible happens to your child and by God's grace they are fortunate enough to survive it, we live in a world that doesn't care to understand it and doesn't really care about your child. It's way too fun to be part of the peanut gallery.

I was thinking about the gorilla pit mom. She will always be remembered as the "gorilla pit mom," but her name is Michelle Gregg. We don't really care to know her name. Like the Star Wars Kid from 10 years ago, we don't remember Ghyslain Raza. We care about a good laugh and our causes. And we don't seem to realize that public shaming is about as harmful as murder. Instead of taking a life, we are taking a reputation.

But someone deals with loss. Raza was told by many people in the peanut gallery to "commit suicide." Like Raza, some people have said they wished the zoo shot the mom instead of the gorilla. In the world today, somehow this rhetoric is not classified as "hate speech" but disagreement over religion, politics, or how we choose to live our life is? That inconsistency boggles me.

It's not my place to criticize these poor parents. They are suffering more than they deserve without my two cents. Our only legitimate response to something like this is to show compassion in whatever way we can. They will never get their son back. Get off Twitter, leave the parents alone, and let them grieve.

Pray for them. If you believe that there is a God who hears our prayers, sympathizes with our sufferings, and will one day right every wrong, then pray. The fact of the matter is, this headline could have happened to any of us while on vacation. If not with an alligator; there are plenty of other threats to our existence. 

As a father, I witness gorilla pit and gator jaw moments every day in our household. Heck, it doesn’t take a large creature to do the job either—our youngest son almost died from a tiny pretzel! No joke. At church during the worship service another father in our congregation yanked me out to tend to our Max who was choking on a pretzel. 

These moments happen more often than naught in parenthood. I’m reminded of one night when we had a friend over for dinner. We were casually eating and conversing, and suddenly Max started gagging. Our friend jumped out of his chair and rushed over to help Max—G and I on the other hand sat there quietly and resumed our dinner uninterrupted. “He does that all the time,” we both said. If he were choking we would have gotten up, but he does this gagging thing so frequently that we knew there was no real alarm.

Another memory comes to mind. I was outside paying with the boys and Calvin rammed his face into one of the outside metal chairs while riding his bike; blood went everywhere. Or that one time when I turned my back for 12 seconds to wash my hands in the sink and I saw Max standing on top of the living room table, about to jump for it. Kids don't only say the darnest things, they do the darnest things too. This doesn't boil down to
neglect, it's just parenthood.

Responsible parents still make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes go viral for the world to mock. If we each had an ounce of humility, we would understand that we're all a lot dumber than we give off. It could happen to me. It could happen to you. 

We cannot allow for fear to grip us and paralyze us. Some people might fear public shame worse than death, in the same way some people would rather die than deliver a public speech. The struggle is real, I'm sure. IMO though, we should fear none of it. Not shame. Not speaking. Not death. 

The last three days have reminded me of our weakness and frailty. My own funeral isn't far away. The odds are stacked against us and there is more terror going on locally, nationally, and globally than I have time to hear or read about. Death is all around us.

We can act busy, we can try to avoid it, we can ignore this conversation, but death will not avoid us. A dear friend of mine won't go into a public movie theater ever since the Aurora, Colorado shooting occurred. I also know someone who won't fly, and another person who will never ride roller coasters. 

There's some wisdom in taking steps like this to avoid unnecessary risk. I don't go bungee jumping, sky diving, or surfing anymore for similar reasons. But our fears can get to a point where they do paralyze us and where we are unable to simply live life, carefree, entrusting ourselves into the providential hands of our Creator and the loving care of our heavenly Father.

We can't let fear cripple us, for Jesus has said: "Get up and walk."

Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
— Jesus (Matthew 6:34)

Nicholas Davis

Rev. Nicholas Davis is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.

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