* Reflections on healthy relationships from the story “Androcels and the Lion”

I read the story “Androcles and the Lion” in my elementary school. It has an obvious message: when we courageously and selflessly offer even a small help to others, we may receive priceless rewards. Several others occurred to me in later life. First the story and then the reflection on the messages. 

Androcles, a slave in the kingdom of Greece was disgusted with his slave life. He ran  away, knowing very well, the risk of death if he were to get caught. Next morning, he was found missing and immediately a band of soldiers set out searching for him.

Androcles ran as fast as he could. When he could not run any more due to hunger and exhaustion, he sat on a boulder, resigned to his death either by wild animals or on getting caught. Looking around, he saw a Lion walking towards him at a distance. He knew he could not run away and save his life in his hungry and exhausted condition. He continued watching the approaching Lion with resignation.

To his surprise, the Lion was not running towards him but walking slowly. When it came closer near him, he could see one of its legs limping. He guessed  it must be hungry, not being able to hunt. He expected it to jump on him any moment.

The Lion came to him slowly and raised its limping leg high. He immediately closed his eyes anticipating a paw hit but was surprised when nothing happened. He opened his eyes and found the lion still holding its paw up, as if showing it to him.

His fear subsided and his curiosity was aroused. Keenly observing the sole of the foot, he found it swollen with pus. He guessed the cause may be a thorn embedded in it. He got fully involved in the situation and took the courageous step of taking the paw in his hands, locating the thorn and removing it. He squeezed out all the pus and bandaged it with part of his shirt. Now he expected the Lion to attack him. To his utter disbelief, the lion quietly walked away into the forest.

After some time, the king’s soldiers found him, shackled him and took him back to the  kingdom. As per the law of the land, his death punishment was announced in all the places. On the appointed day, the people filled the large arena to see him put to death.

A lion was kept starving in advance, to make sure it promptly attacked the prisoner when released. Androcles was brought in and tied to a pole at the center of the arena. The cage with the starving lion was pulled into the arena. The door of the cage was opened setting the lion free. People held their breath anticipating the gruesome act of the lion eating Androcles alive.

The Lion ran roaring towards helpless Androcles. As soon as it came near him, it stopped dead in it’s track and started licking him. All the people and the king were stunned at the exceptional sight of a hungry lion sparing it’s prey and behaving like his pet.

You guessed it right! It was the same lion whose life was saved by Androcles. When the king learned from Androcles how he helped the lion in the forest, he felt happy and set him free. It is of course a story that ends happily with lessons about courage, sacrifice and gratitude.

Now let us reflect on the characters, incidents and insights in this story.

Reflections 

Androcles

Androcles had the courage to look at the condition of the limping lion under a life threatening situation. He wanted to use his last day in the best possible manner. He did not expect any return favor from the lion. In hindsight, he might have saved his life by not running away. How?  If he did succeed in running away, he was bound to be caught sometime later and certainly put to death.

Though he was himself in a life threatening situation, he maintained a cool and focused mind, found the thorn and removed it. He even sacrificed a part of his shirt to bandage the wound.

Compared with the lion, Androcels was a puny creature. But he had the unique capability for diagnosing the cause for the lion’s limp and the skills for taking out the thorn. His life was saved two times. First, by the grateful lion whose life he saved. But then the king could still have put him to death by other means. He didn’t. The king also saved Androcles’s life, even though he violated the law of the land by running away. This was like Androcles investing a small kind deed in bank A (the lion) expecting no returns but he got priceless return of his life itself. Then he got another equally priceless return from a second bank B (the king) though he didn’t invest in it and on the other hand, broke its law!

Androcles took out just a tiny thorn spending about 20 minutes and what did he get in return? His whole life!

The Lion

The lion had the presence of mind to see a potential savior in Androcles knowing he might be having a gun or knife and might kill it, instead of helping it. It also took a risk. Though a lion is the powerful king of the forest, it had to swallow its pride, to seek help from a weakling like Androcles. After the lion got help from Androcles, it had the decency of not feeding on its life savior.

The thorn was tiny but was causing the starvation of the lion that would ultimately have lead to its death. It is an irony of nature that though a lion could kill even an elephant, it couldn’t take out a tiny thorn from its own foot! So powerful but so helpless!

Let us introspect

How often we may be suffering endlessly, handicapped by some thorns in our bodies, minds or relationships, unable to take them out on our own? We may not even be able to see the hidden thorns. Each of us, though strong in many respects, may need help from a weakling like Androcles to help us get rid of our thorns and reclaim our lives. But our egos, family upbringing  and cultural inhibitions may prevent us from seeking help from others. On the other hand, how many among us viciously insert thorns into others’ minds, bodies or relationships?

How much better our lives can be, if we can cooperate with each other and take out the tiny thorns from each others’ minds, bodies and relationships, taking some risks and putting in some efforts? Can we be collectively wise in reclaiming our lives and happiness in the blink of a time we are privileged to live on planet earth?

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