Tiger Balm

Recently, I’ve been catching myself thinking about my life in terms too small.

I’m not sure exactly the cause of this. When I was younger, I thought of myself as big: big personality, big expectations, big voice, big will. I’ll never forget the day in kindergarten that the Fire Chief visited school to do Stop, Drop, And Roll with us. We all gathered in the gym, I wearing my favorite yellow t-shirt and, I’m almost positive, maroon corduroys and the Fire Chief with his navy blue uniform with the shiny badge on it. It was 1981 or so. And. it. was. awesome. And I got to do the demonstration in front of the class and the Chief called me “tiger.” It was one of my most formative moments. I’ve thought of myself as a tiger ever since…up until recently.

Maybe it was the trauma of graduate school or the string of utterly horrible bosses in bad jobs I’ve muscled through but I’ve found myself feeling totally disconnected with my tiger, now confined into tiny little, Russian nesting boxes that seem to have no escape: my savings account, my job title, my pants that are too tight, my doubts. I can’t fit the tiger in here.

But then, at the moments I least expect, I am reminded that these are boxes of my own making. They are not steel. They can be paper mache. They can be something other than boxes. They can be nothing at all. How would a tiger think about these things?

I’m not sure if it’s a condition of “middle-age-hood” that I’m settling into now or a combination of factors that include choosing a mostly unconventional life or feeling like a perennial outsider or a melange of things but these boxes, these worries, are death to the spirit. When I give myself a chance to think about them as not important, not those markers by which to judge success, I feel an onrush of sweet air, like super-oxygenated wind, catch me. Every part of me feels so much better but especially my heart. It beats redder in those moments.

Tigers forego understanding. They don’t worry about a 401k. They live moment to moment, go where life takes them, hunt and provide, and occasionally stare down their prey…because they can. But more than anything else, they’re free.

Maybe TIGER should be my mantra for awhile, if only to break out of my own little boxes.

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