// how to be a tiger

Simon Barnes’ excellent (and heartfelt) article on living with a son who has Down’s syndrome really stuck with me when when i read it in the Times on Saturday, and is well worth reading in its own right. But it also contains a profound image of what God wants to do in us, something that didn’t really stick out until a prayer time on Monday where it lodged again in my brain and wouldn’t go away…

Simon describes his son Eddie’s love of tigers, ever since putting on a tiger mask at a young age, and describes “the transformation, the transfiguration [that] took place” as a result. He describes his son’s “glorious respect” for the book The Tiger who came to Tea, and specifically of the tiger in that story, and how he would read his son these stories of tigers before putting him to bed at night. And, most significantly, he describes the day that his son decided to dress up as the tiger, his favourite literary character, for World Book Day at school:

We got him a tiger costume, and he was so delighted he couldn’t speak. Then came the day in which he was to go to school as a tiger, as the Tiger — but alas, he went down with a cold. A cold is a hard thing for a child with Down’s, because their tubes are extremely narrow. Breathing is difficult even at the best of times; a cold robs Eddie of sleep and of comfort, for he can’t suck his thumb, and it casts him down, utterly. He was deeply dispirited, but determined to go to school as a tiger: a very sad, tearful, snotty, red-nosed tiger he was too. He threw up in his tiger suit and he had to come home before the day was done. Eddie the sad tiger was a heartbreaking sight: it had all started so well and ended so poorly. Eddie lacked the philosophical basis to give these things the perspective most children his age possess. It was a bitter blow.

The story of wanting to be transformed and yet not being able to is one that a lot of us can identify with. We tell ourselves that as adults we should be able to put these things, these disappointments, behind us – we call them naive idealism and move on from them. Reality doesn’t match our dreams or ideals a lot of the time; we end up not measuring up and we fail or fall or mess up, and that’s all okay provided we learn something. That’s life, right?

Only there is a happy ending to Eddie’s story. And it goes like this:

The following year, the two tiger books were still part of our lives, and the Tiger, the one who ate the cakes and drank the tea from the teapot and drank all the water in the tap, was still Eddie’s favourite book. And so he went to school in his stripes once again, this time as a happy tiger.

So the story, like all the best stories, has a happy ending…

Thing is, our ideals aren’t necessarily impossible. Not always. And, although there are sometimes points where we do indeed need to give up, accept that this just isn’t right, a lot of the time we’re just too willing to give up all too quickly…

This story came back to mind with a verse, and that verse was 1 Samuel 16:7 – “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” God isn’t interested in putting a crying child in a tiger costume and then sending them out as some kind of counterfeit tiger; he’s interested in facilitating that kind of transformation that means we have that integrity in us, that we become that embodiment of those ideals that we dream about in all our being.

It’s not a universal rule, true, and i wouldn’t apply it to all situations. That said, though, it’s a beautiful thought, don’t you think? That one day we might reach a point where we fall less short, where internal might finally match up with external – even when, in the past, these attempts have met only with tears and pain.

That, perhaps, we could get to a place where we don’t just look like the tiger, but we become the tiger.

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