I’ll never forget taking my kids to a small zoo in Florida and standing in the middle of the primate section, surrounded by cages full of orangutans, baboons, and chimpanzees. The smaller monkeys entertained everyone by swinging on ropes and scaling the bars of the cage, but what kept me mesmerized was the huge gorilla sitting in front of me.
For some odd reason, he kept staring at me. So I stared back. I made a face, and he looked away. He made a sound, and I moved side to side, waving my arms in the air like I was guarding a basketball player. This went on for about ten minutes until my wife walked over. “Look at this gorilla,” I said. “I think I’m really making a connection with him. I mean, I say something and then he—”
Something bounced off my shoe. The gorilla just sat there, rocking back and forth, staring the other direction. I looked down and couldn’t believe my eyes: gorilla poop all over my new sneakers! Before I could look up again, something went flying by my head.
Then something nicked my shorts. “This stupid ape is throwing poop at me!” I screamed. “You stupid animal, look at me when I’m—”
Another piece of poop went whizzing by, then another and another. Finally I ran up to the cage, screaming at the gorilla, and he roared back at me. The two of us must have made quite a commotion, because within seconds a zookeeper ran over to me and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Why not? What’s he going to do? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m out here and he’s behind those steel bars!” The zookeeper shook his head. “He’s so strong he could rip that cage door off with one arm if he wanted to. The only reason he’s in there is because he doesn’t know he can get out.”
That moment marked me and not because of the poop on my shoes. I had finally found a metaphor that helped me understand what happened to me on the witness stand when I was thirteen.
Unbeknownst to me, while my family and I drove home from court, someone else was headed toward my house as well. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to uninvite him from my life ever since.
Living with an unforgiving heart is like living with a gorilla. I don’t mean trekking on safari to see gorillas in the wild, trying to fit into their environment with the least disturbance possible. I mean trying to go about your daily routine while one of their slightly overweight cousins sits on your family room couch, playing with the remote control. I’m thinking of the kind that used to travel with the circus and bum cigarettes off people in grocery store parking lots.
I mean the gorilla that beats his chest when you run out of ice cream and blasts holes in your drywall like a construction worker’s wrecking ball, a gorilla strong enough to kill you but domesticated enough to sit down with you and your kids on the living room floor and eat pepperoni pizza and chug seventeen cans of root beer. A gorilla that doesn’t know he can leave because you’ve never told him, a gorilla you can get used to having around if you’re desperate enough.
That’s what it’s like to live with an unforgiving heart.
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