Wild Kingdom came on at 5 on Saturday evenings when I was a kid. Following that was Lawrence Welk. The carnage on Wild Kingdom was not assuaged by the Waltz‘s on LW. At no age did I find LW fun/interesting/funny/worth my time. However, and unfortunately, the two shows are stuck in my memory like post-it notes that have melted together. I did love WK. Thank you to Mutual of Omaha for introducing me to nature‘s way with sex (edited) and violence (unedited, of course).
The matter of fact way that animals kill each other and die is what most indelibly tattooed my little brain on those Saturday afternoons. My dad would be out grilling hamburgers (Happy Birthday by the way, Les) and I was transfixed by Marlin Perkins’ voice urging Jim to pet the lion licking her chops on gazelle blood. I digress: it is the hackneyed joke about Jim and the lions, I know. I couldn‘t resist.
The dying. I have written here before about humans dying and finding unfathomable dignity in that process. I have realized that animals and plants and flowers too, die, well, naturally. It is a part of the living process. The antelope would fall and as the cheetah‘s teeth sunk perfectly into it‘s jugular, the antelope stopped its striving. Acquiescence, acceptance. The final stage of Kubler-Ross instantly. It was shocking to me at the time. That is because the story about death I picked up as a kid was much more ornate and fictional. Somehow I thought it was attended by trumpets and angels that everyone could see. I thought that lions and mice really did get along and pulled thorns out of paws. Not so much. The order is quite a bit more fixed and matter of fact. Maybe if I had been to slaughter house and seen how we deal with our food animals I would have seen the human take on matter-of-fact dying.
I appreciate the Wild Kingdom for showing the truth about dying. It prepared me for what I have been privileged to experience with many people in my work as a surgeon. One moment we are running strong, aware or not of the cheetah in pursuit, the next, we are not running. We are falling and returning to the dirt, noble in our last breath.