The Lion And The Butterfly

Once upon a time, an enormous lion lay under a spreading Acacia tree and looked out over his domain. He looked over his six lionesses who lay around in the shade. "What beauties," he purred, "and they do all the hunting too." He looked at his ten cubs playing in the grass nearby. He looked around at a herd of wary antelope in the distance, knowing he could always expect a good meal whenever he wanted (the fat antelopes were his favorite). All seemed well in his world.

One of the cubs was preparing to pounce at one of the many small flowers on the ground. The cub showed the beginnings of grace as it learned to hunt. He was as proud as a father could be. He watched the little tyke spring onto the flower. A little brightly colored thing flew up from where the cub had pounced . "Hmmmn..." said the lion, "what is that tiny creature? I have not seen such here before."

The little creature flew over to the lion and landed on his nose. "I am a butterfly," said the butterfly. "I just came over to say hello to you and your family."

"Pshaw," said the lion. "I won't talk to the fragile likes of you. It is beneath me." And with that, the lion squashed the butterfly on his nose with his mighty paw. "Ouch!" said the lion, having scratched his nose by accident in the process.

The next day, the lion noticed four of the cubs pouncing on things in the grass. He watched a butterfly fly up and again make its way to his nose. The butterfly said, "Just thought I'd come by again today to enjoy all these lovely flowers".

"I thought I had killed you," said the lion.

"Well, I'm still here," said the butterfly.

"That makes no sense," said the lion, and again he squashed the butterfly with one swipe of his mighty paw, taking care this time not to scratch his nose.

Another butterfly flew up from where a cub had just pounced and again made its way to the lion's nose. "Isn't it just a lovely day to be free?" said the butterfly.

The lion tried to look carefully at this creature who vexed him so much. His head began to hurt from the effort as his eyes crossed trying to focus on his nose. The lion saw a funny shape on the wings of the butterfly. "What is that funny looking symbol on your wings?" asked the lion with a growl.

"It's a peace sign," said the butterfly. "Quite fetching, don't you think?"

"Peace!" bellowed the lion. "Peace is for the weak. I am strong because I live by war. Mine is a world of scarcity and finite resources, but I take what I want -- lionesses, antelopes, water. I smash other lions and their cubs so my cubs will have more land. Brutal violence is the only thing which keeps me alive. I will have no symbols around which might make me or my cubs weak, or which might make other lions think I am weak and encourage them to attack me." And with that the lion smashed his mighty paw on the butterfly. He yelped in pain, as in his anger he had hit his nose quite hard.

The next day all the cubs were pouncing on butterflies in the grass. A butterfly flew up and again landed on the lion's nose. "What a great day to be free. I just love it over here. There are the most beautiful flowers here with the sweetest nectar."

"I don't want you here setting a bad example of weakness and fragility and cowardice for my cubs," said the lion. "Leave at once or I will squash you again."

"FIW. Freedom is being able to say I won't," said the butterfly, "and freedom is more precious to me than anything else. I can cooperate or not as I please. I can play by your rules or I can play by my rules or I can play by rules we negotiate or renegotiate. I play an infinite game, not a finite one. And it is also because I am free and strong and brave that I can offer to be your friend."

The lion did not take well to this, as evidenced by his ears going way back. "You have the audacity not to jump at my command? My rules are the only rules. They are based on the laws of nature as I see them with my perfect vision. Thus the rules I make with my commands must obviously be fair and just and unquestionable in this finite world. All the lionesses and cubs agree completely with me on the rules and their fairness, and when they don't, I make them agree. And rule number one is that I, the strongest and toughest, make all the rules and can change them whenever I want. You have the arrogance to think you could ever be my friend? I could never be friends with the puny likes of you -- we have nothing in common, and you have nothing I want I can not take by force. For such arrogance and for having the stupidity to question the rules you must die!" roared the lion. He thumped his nose again, smashing the butterfly. This time he was sure he had gotten it -- he could see the remains of a butterfly's wings, antenna and body on his paw. "Pesky thing," he said. "Useless, good for nothing, ill mannered insect -- breaking the rules, hiding its weakness and cowardice and fear in lies and deception, begging for undeserved friendship because it can not fit into the natural social order and justice of the cosmic lion pride, and showing nothing but ingratitude for my benevolence to even deign to give it an order," he muttered to himself.

Just then, another butterfly landed on his nose, asking, "Please won't you be my friend and neighbor? One can never have too many friendly neighbors." The lion smashed that one in rage. Then another butterfly landed on his nose. He smashed it too before it could utter a word. Then another landed, and he squashed it too with another smash.

The next day, the lion looked out to see hundreds of butterflies on the flowers in the field. One flew over and landed on his nose. "What a gorgeous morning!" exclaimed the butterfly. "I am so happy to be alive and free in this beautiful and abundant world. Will you be my friend today?"

The lion said craftily, "Oh, beautiful fragile butterfly, I am so sorry about those previous accidents. Let me make it up to you by paying a visit to your home. Prey, ah-hem, I mean, please tell me where you live, and I will visit tomorrow out of the most sincere fiendship, ah-hem, I mean, friendship."

"Oh, my home is far too dangerous a place for a lion," said the butterfly, "even such a strong and quick and magnificent lion such as yourself."

"Such insolence! How can a place such a fragile creature as you calls home be of any danger to the likes of me!" exclaimed the lion, and forgetting his plan in anger for the moment, he squashed that butterfly dead in one quick lash of his paw, practically breaking his nose in the process.

As he yelped in pain, another butterfly flew over and landed again on his nose. "Is there anything I can do to help, friend lion?" asked the butterfly. "You look like you are in a lot of pain."

"Yes," growled the lion, "just tell me where you live!"

"Well," said the butterfly flying into the air, "I live many miles down this road." The butterfly flew down the road in the in the right direction. The butterfly said, "You would know the place because it is a big field surrounded by lots of signs and fences."

At midnight, the lion set out to find the home of his supposed foe to kill him as he slept -- thinking that then certainly he would be rid of the butterfly once and for all. He raced for hours until he found a very long fence with lots of signs on it just before dawn. "This must be the place," said the lion. "I shall preemptively pounce upon the butterfly as he sleeps and then I will have no more annoyances."

The lion made a tremendous leap over the fence and then he bounded to the middle of the field. As the sun continued to come up, he saw thousands upon thousands upon thousands of butterflies everywhere. He began to leap and pounce, crushing butterflies by the dozens every time he landed anywhere. He leaped again and again, killing hundreds of butterflies, and then thousands.

As the lion paused for breath from all this exertion, a butterfly flew onto his nose. "Friend lion, I am so glad you came to see me in my home," said the butterfly. "It is so beautiful here, don't you think? I love to bask in the sun here, and there are so many beautiful flowers here. It is a pity that so few come to see me here. In fact, I think you are the first in a very long time. I am so glad you came, friend lion. You are such a beautiful sight to watch as you leap and play, with your muscles rippling under your golden fur. I am indeed so sad for you that you are such a weak beast and have to live in so much fear for your life. I live in fear of no one -- that is why I am truly free."

"Weak! I will show you weak! Fear! I will show you fear!" roared the lion and with that, the lion spent another hour pouncing without a break -- squashing ten thousand butterflies. The lion bellowed into the field, "Now you see why you must fear me and obey me -- for I am the all powerful lion, hear me roar!" The lion tried to roar after saying that, but it came out a little more squeaky than usual because he was a little out of breath from all that pouncing and bellowing. He again paused for a rest, and again a butterfly flew up and landed on his nose.

As the lion panted heavily, the butterfly said, "Yours must be a tough life to live. Why, when I land in someone's yard, that person often takes my picture and invites friends over to see me. Sometimes people even plant flowers just to get me to come by. That makes me feel so loved and wanted. I have seen that when you come into someone's yard, all the people run away, or they point sticks at you and you fall over and are taken away. It must be difficult to live without many friends. What a sad fate, lion. I weep for you."

"I don't know what you are talking about -- I have never been in anybody's yard but my own! How dare you even imagine you can have pity for someone like myself who is clearly your superior in every way! I will show you who needs pity!" And with that, the lion leaped into motion again, killing more and more butterflies, until he lay on his side exhausted, his golden mane stained with the remains of countless butterflies, fragments of their wings forming a morbid sort of ribbon of peace signs around his neck.

Another butterfly landed on the lion's nose. The lion gasped, "What is it you want now?"

The butterfly said, "I just wanted to warn you. It's always about this time of day that there is a lot of action around here and I don't think it will be safe for a lion."

"You insult me one too many times!" roared the lion. And with that, the lion sprang into action again, and he pounced, and he pounced, and thousands more butterflies were crushed. As the lion paused to catch his breath, he heard a funny noise in the sky. He looked up. There were white lines in the sky just ahead of where the noise was, and he could see some things falling out of the sky. Way down the field there was an explosion. Then another, then another, getting closer to where he was. "Well," said the lion, "if a fragile butterfly can survive this, so can I." He started pouncing again, smashing butterfly after butterfly as the bombs fell on the target range.

The lion was right, actually. He received hardly a scratch from any of the cluster bombs because the pilots gave him a wide berth. He also by chance missed pouncing on any mines or unexploded ordinance. But, seemingly oddly enough for such an enormous lion, his heart suddenly gave out from all that unexpected exercise. In retrospect, he might have anticipated that since he had been overindulging in fat antelopes and the lionesses had, after all, been the ones getting all the exercise by doing all the hunting. As his body lay growing cold in the middle of the field, a butterfly left the cloud of millions of butterflies hovering over the field, and landed on his nose. "Thank you ever so much for the visit, my poor fragile friend. I do hope you can come over again tomorrow." And with that, the butterfly flew off from the lion's nose and up into the sunny blue sky to rejoin the others.

(Written February 19, 2003, and posted on a Pacifica Radio Web Forum. It was in a response to someone pro-military saying how they would rather be a big strong lion -- presumbably rampaging around the world -- than a little weak butterfly.)


Copyright 2003-2008 Paul D. Fernhout

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