Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hyena at the Crossroads

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” – Pablo Picasso

In the wild and wondrous grasslands of Africa, there lived a hyena named Fisi. Thanks to some rather annoying vultures, Fisi hadn’t had a bite to eat in several days, and he was very hungry. 

He wandered the path searching for Nyumbu—wildebeest. For where there are wildebeest, there will be young ones, ready to pick off from the herd. Fisi walked along, searching and sniffing, until he came to a fork in the road.

Fisi - Hyena

Fisi took a few steps in one direction and sniffed. How he prided himself on his fine sense of smell, and he was not disappointed. His nostrils tingled with delight. He could smell one of his favorite foods, Nyumbu—fresh wildebeest on the hoof. His mouth watered.

Nyumbu - Wildebeest

He was about to follow the path when suddenly he remembered that there were, in fact, two paths. It was just possible that something even more delightful awaited him on the other trail. 

Fisi took a few steps down the second path and sniffed. Again, nostrils tingling. Again, a delicious scent—Punda Milia—zebra! Fisi laughed as only a hyena can laugh. He couldn’t believe such good fortune. Both paths led to a delicious dinner!

Punda Milia - Zebra

Fisi started to follow the second path, but he stopped and looked back down the first path. How could he know which way led to the bigger catch, the tastier game?

Back and forth paced Fisi, faster and faster, torn between two tantalizing treats. Unfair that he must choose. Back and forth, back and forth—after all, he was well deserving of both. 

Fisi wailed. . . .

Fisi wailed, and a flock of waxbills took flight.

Back and forth, faster and faster. This way, then that—panting, panting. At last, Fisi tried to go both ways at once and tore himself in two.

* * * * *

When Jack G. Priestley was teaching at the Malcolm Moffat Teacher Training College in Zaire, a student told the story of the hyena who tried to go two ways at once. 

Mr. Priestley had two types of students in his class—those who came from the culture of the bush and those who had been schooled in Western tradition. The students from the bush insisted that the story was true, while the Western-educated students were equally adamant that the story was just a silly tribal tale.

The argument escalated, until at last, one exasperated native student yelled, “It’s true. It’s true. Greed kills.”

This story, told to me years ago by my friend and mentor Olga Williams, serves as an exquisite illustration of how a story can be both fiction and true at the same time. A good story tells the truth, even when the characters and setting and events are all artistic inventions.

Captain Ahab

So call me Ishmael. Maybe there never was a Captain Ahab, or an Ivan Tsarevitch, or a Rikki Tikki Tavi. But that doesn’t keep the stories from being conduits of truth. 

Some people say that stories give us the truth indirectly, but perhaps stories are actually more direct than sermons or dissertations. For through stories, great truths bypass our reasoning and go straight to our hearts.

Stories carry truth. . . .

1 comment:

  1. So very true! Reminds me of Madeleine L'Engle's writings on story. Now, if I could only finish this novel...