I noticed it first in the elephants. From the safari jeep, we saw them in the near distance, walking through the South African bush. Their movement was steady, serene, focused—moving forward with purpose and utmost clarity, undeterred by distraction. They embodied grace in a way I had never seen before, a grace that filled them and emanated forth from them. They were living their unique beingness on Earth, fully and completely, and with a simple beauty that made my breath catch in my throat and tears fill my eyes when I looked at them. It was God’s grace and presence I was witnessing—it filled them so sweetly and divinely. That is the way we were all meant to walk upon this Earth.
The giraffes too walked in this manner, slowly and purposefully, their elongated necks reaching elegantly out and up to eat leaves from the trees. Like the elephants, their shoulders moved fluidly and powerfully with each step. There was no hurry, no rush to reach a goal. They were just living their lives as they were created to be. When they bent to drink from a river, their legs splayed outward to accommodate the downward bending of their long neck to reach the water source. It looked both awkward and graceful simultaneously because it was real, uncontrived. Living yoga. Meditation in motion.
Soon I realized that all the wild animals I saw in Africa moved with this graceful quality—the impalas and water bucks walking or running together in groups; the baboons and monkeys swinging from branch to branch, from tree to tree; the wart hogs trotting along like large odd-looking pigs; the zebras drinking together at a water hole, their heads moving up and down to watch for predators. And even when startled by the possibility of a predator, all the animals ran with fluid grace and focused alertness. No wasted movement. It was if everything had been choreographed perfectly according to some grand design—and of course it was. Life in its natural state has a beauty that defies artifice.
Even at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where the animals have been injured or orphaned and live in fenced areas, this quality had not been entirely lost. As volunteers, we were given a tour of all the different animals with a brief history of why they were there. It was difficult for me to see these wild creatures behind fences, but I did understand that their lives had been saved by the center and they were being protected there. Still, at times, my heart went out to them. As we passed a male lion walking up and down within a large fenced expanse, I watched him as he watched all of us. Just a few feet away, on the other side of the fence, his eyes surveyed us, one by one, as we walked by. When his eyes reached mine, they stopped, and I stopped. Something passed between us—awareness perhaps: I was aware of him and he was aware of me, a human and a lion meeting, eye to eye, for one moment in time. Chills covered my arms, and tears came to my eyes. Then we each moved on. Yet I will never forget his golden grace-filled wild lion eyes.
The wild animals of Africa live in our imagination long before we see them in person, if we are fortunate enough to do so. They seem to embody a connection to life’s mysteries and magic, something we have lost in our urban world full of cars and concrete. They walk with a living grace that causes us to pause and remember how precious they are in this world. How precious all animals are, everywhere. Their very being, so different from ours, reminds us of the incredible variety of creatures that we are blessed to share the planet with. Each one is unique, unrepeatable. May we celebrate them by protecting their habitat, their freedom, and their infinitely graceful lives.