On Father’s Day, my wife and I drove down to Como Park, walked among the gardens, and went to the zoo. It was a beautiful day, and there were many people enjoying the park. At the giraffe grazing area, we sat down on a bench and watched both the giraffes and the people watching the giraffes. Or, I should say, we watched the people not watching the giraffes.
It was the strangest thing. There were many people in the immediate proximity of the giraffe area, but precious few were actually looking at the giraffes at all. Granted, caged giraffes are not the most engaging of creatures, but still, they are giraffes, and one would think that a real live giraffe would warrant at least a casual glance. And yet, person after person after person passed them up.
I continued to watch these people, wondering what destination or attraction had captured their attention. And I was so disappointed by what I discovered. People preferred snow cones to the giraffes. People preferred the cheap fair rides to the giraffes. And worst of all, many people preferred the concrete replicas of giraffes to the giraffes!
The reasons for this are probably many in number. Perhaps blame should be placed on the zooscape architects who designed the giraffe grazing area. Perhaps blame should be placed on those tricky concession vendors that placed the snow cone booth so close to the giraffes. Some might even blame the magnificent giraffes themselves for not being more entertaining… if only they could be a bit more like the chimpanzees! But whoever is to blame, how can it be that folks prefer a concrete version of a giraffe to an actual, genuine giraffe?
I am reminded of the story in the Bible where the children of Israel, at a rare moment in their wilderness journey when their leader, Moses, was otherwise preoccupied and thereby absent, ask the second-in-charge guy, Aaron, to make them a golden calf. They so insisted that they preferred an idol to the real thing that Aaron eventually consents. (By the way, they get into big trouble.)
Mary Oliver, the great American poet who died just this year, states her three rules of life as: (1) pay attention; (2) be astonished; and (3) write it down. And while you don’t have to write anything down, my prayer is that we might pay attention to and be astonished by that which is real and alive and right under our noses rather than being captivated by the fake idols that our culture offers. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather spend my life watching a real giraffe any day.