We know well the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” which highlights the importance of a community in shaping and protecting the lives of its children, often the most vulnerable members of any community.
I am reminded of a heart-pounding video that illustrates this truth, not from the human world, but from the animal kingdom. The five-minute video, Battle at Kruger, was shot by an amateur photographer who happened to capture the attack of a herd of Cape buffalo by a small pride of young lions.
The opening moments show the wandering herd of buffalo grazing aimlessly on the open plain at the edge of a small lake. Then, the camera pans across the way to four or five lions who see the herd and suddenly feel hungry. While the buffalo seem oblivious to the presence of any danger, the lions are stealthily inching toward their unsuspecting prey. And then, in a flash the lions spring their attack on the buffalo.
The herd scatters, each cape Buffalo running for its own life. The lions take a bead on a slower and smaller young buffalo. They catch up to it, and one of them leaps on the buffalo’s back, bringing it tumbling down into the shallows of the lake. The lions begin to sink their claws and teeth into the tough hide of the buffalo, who is struggling hopelessly to escape.
Before the lions can drag the baby buffalo out of the water, a crocodile grabs on to one of its back legs and begins to pull it toward deeper water. The little buffalo has become the rope in a tug-of-war between the lions and the crocodile. Eventually, the lions prevail and drag their victim to the shore, where they gang up on the defenseless baby buffalo. The lions begin to ferociously maul the buffalo. It looks very much as if the baby buffalo will not escape and is about to become an unfortunate part of the circle of life.
While the video is rolling, the voice of the cameraman registers surprise. “Uh-oh, look at this!” Immediately, the frame widens to show the herd of Cape buffalo coming back into the picture, and they are not happy. They are surrounding the lions and closing in on them fast. The lions, who have now stopped chewing on the baby buffalo, begin to realize that they are outnumbered 50-to-1. The Cape buffalo push in closer and closer on the nervous lions.
Suddenly, the scene shifts, and the attackers become the attacked. The angry buffalo have backed the lions back down to the water’s edge. Lions are getting pitched into the air on the horns of the powerful bulls in the herd. Soon the lions scatter, running from packs of buffalo who have come to rescue their little one.
The video ends with the lions heading for the hills and the baby buffalo being reunited, safe and sound, with the herd. The herd, the village, of Cape buffalo circled around their vulnerable young one and saved it when it could not save itself. Sometimes, it takes a village!
This battle at Kruger is not unlike what happens in the human world. There is a predator who lurks under cover, ready to attack. Maybe the predator is a disease, or maybe it is a ruined relationship, the crushing loss of a dream, a massive failure, the death of a loved one. All of us, at one time or another, will face some kind of predator that is bigger and stronger than we are. Alone, we do not have the courage or capacity to rescue ourselves. We are all vulnerable at some point in our lives — as vulnerable as the baby buffalo in the clutches of the lions.
And, that’s when we know, maybe for the first time, that it takes a village to raise a child — or anyone for that matter. We experience the gift of being surrounded by a herd of people who will act in many wise, brave and thoughtful ways to care for us. Our village will circle around us with healing for our wounds, with strength for our weakness and the assurance that we are not alone.
This is what I began to experience on Sept. 8, when my family suffered the sudden and tragic loss of my daughter, Rebekah’s, husband, Steve. Those first days after his death, we felt very much like that baby Cape buffalo in the teeth of the lions, like we might not make it. And, then our village started circling around us with every imaginable expression of compassion and caring from casseroles to dog-sitting. We still feel the support and love of our village. It has taken the village — the whole village — but, they have snatched us from the jaws of the lions, and we are healing.
It takes a village. May we each find our ways of being part of that village.