I’m sure you’ve heard the terribly sad story of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer with 30 years of experience, being attacked by the whale she trained and drug underwater to her death. I can’t even imagine how horrifying that must have been for those present. What a shock and what a tragedy. She of all people knew the animal well and it surely knew her well. Her sister said Dawn loved the animals like children.
I love animals, too, but sometimes their behavior reminds us that they are truly that in their nature: animals. My dog, Sunny, is timid and sweet but if a little child gets too close or pulls on her she snaps. That whale had been trained and interacted with people all the time, but it was still a wild animal – still not completely predictable or controllable and knee-deep in the water Dawn was standing a little too close.
If you google “wild animal trainer attack” you’ll get lots of article inks to similar accidents. Sometimes I’ve read that the animals weren’t really attacking, they were playing. But when a 350-pound tiger wants to play with a human 1/3 its size, someone is going to get hurt and it won’t be the tiger.
Siegfried and Roy, famed big cat trainers, had tigers roaming their property and living with them. Even after years of being together and performing show after show, one night Roy was attacked by a 380-pound tiger and drug offstage by his neck. He barely survived.
It’s not that the wild animals are evil, they are just behaving true to their nature and the way they were made to be. Unfortunately, in this broken world we can’t truly live safely with all of them in such close proximity. It’s not meant to be that way.
As I thought about what happened this week to poor Dawn, I thought about her choice to subject herself to the danger of that happening every day as she trained the whales. I know she was doing what she loved and oftentimes it was fun and really entertaining.
However, maybe hugging killer whales or living with tigers isn’t such a good idea.
I think the same truth applies to our spiritual life, to our soul. Sometimes I think we allow things or people who have the potential to do us great harm stay too close in proximity to us. We may think, “I’m in control here. This isn’t an addiction, I’ll stop it if it starts to get out of hand.” Keeping temptations around is based on the same logic: “It won’t hurt to have it near, I can resist. No problem. I know what I’m doing.” It would be foolish for an alcoholic to keep whiskey in the house or a drug addict to keep going to the same places in town where they bought drugs. It’s not safe for their soul. Better to put miles between yourself and something that could cause such trouble for you. Sooner or later temptation might show its true nature – and its bite leads to sin which leads to death.
No matter how harmless or innocent something appears on the outside, wild is still wild. Be careful.