The Circus Bear

I’ve been startled to learn, during this long year of Covid, how deep healing reveals such astonishing freedom. Here is a favorite story, which has challenged me over the years.

Many years ago, circus trains criss-crossed the United States. The performers and their props were in some wagons, and their animals had their own cages. People liked to stroll along the line of parked wagons to view the animals – lions, tigers, bears and even a lonely elephant or two. One evening a small group stopped in front of the bear. Shee was huddled back in the corner, clearly so unhappy with her life. It was almost as if she knew that she belonged in the countryside there, free to climb a tree and live in the woods. She was, after all, an American black bear, not an exile from the tropics. Something had called out to her. It made her very sad, and the people sensed that.

The next day some townsfolk gathered and began to imagine freeing the bear to her proper world. They gathered friends and kin, and soon they had enough money to buy her from the circus owner. The whole town was very excited. Someone brought a tractor to haul the bear in her wagon out to a perfect place in the neighboring forest. The townsfolk had made a little clearing next to a lovely stream, and there they parked the cage. They put food and water outside, opened wide the door, and left quietly.

The next day, when they went to see what was happening, the bear was still crouched in the corner of her cage, and the food and water were untouched. They spoke kindly to the bear, and then left again. The next day, they found the same thing. The bear was crouched in the corner of her cage, even though the door was wide open. The townsfolk were frustrated and impatient now. Why wouldn’t she leave? What was she frightened of? Did s not want to be free?

And so it continued, for many days.

The tellers of the story say, eventually, the bear inched her way to the open door, and apparently, one day, just slipped out. But no one really knows, for the townsfolk were so disappointed, they stopped checking each day. No one knows for sure, and as I said, this happened a long time ago.

So, my friends, my question for myself and all of us: Is there a place in my life where I am crouched in the corner, too fearful to explore my freedom? Is there an  inner caged bear who longs to be free?

4 thoughts on “The Circus Bear

  1. “There’s no place like home”,Dorothy says in the book,The Wizard of Oz”
    I was saddened by the Circus Bear’s story & I felt her fear of leaving the only home she knew & how she must have felt safe in her cage, surrounded by the calls & movements of her neighbor animals. No one could help her
    as she felt abandoned in her forest cage & when she finally emerged she longed to be back with her Circus friends. If she could speak ‘human’ I think she would have said “Thank you, but I’m fine”.

  2. Totally!!! I think sometimes too a person or bear caged too long brazenly charges out into the world and in this way hides her fear, but it is still there. Often, I think, it is also hard for others to see the internal fear or resonate with it when it is successfully hidden by swagger or brashness. I’m sad that the town’s people could not sit gently with the frightened bear as she worked to overcome her fear. I always long to see the manifestations of empathy toward clearly frightened bears as well as those hiding fear behind brashness.

  3. Great story (and question), Penny! I’m about to do the opposite of crouching; more like a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants move. I’ll share how it turns out when we can finally have lunch together again.

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