“The Tent”

by Donna Warren


I roved for many years looking for a roof over my head. I found buildings with spires—fingers pointing to the sky. I found round onion domes that reflected the golden sun, but all the creatures on the inside of these looked too much alike and spoke the same language. I kept on wandering.

Finally, after many miles and decades, I loped over a hill not far from the water and saw a giant tent. Two upside down horseshoes on the open canvas flap beckoned me. I trotted in and discovered a raucous crowd of animals – striped, spotted, feathered, and fanged. I heard meows, roars, hisses, and brays. When we had meetings, coming to consensus was like herding cats. I’d found my community.

Then, recently, we heard a loud crack. Our center pole snapped. One minute the tent was humming with bleats and neighs and oinks, while the next minute the roof had caved in; the folds of the canvas separating us. Caught unwares, many of us cried out, bruised, and even bleeding. Most in shock.

Now, I hear fearful whispers in every language—baaaaa, “How could this have happened? Was it lightning? But there was no thunder to warn us!” Angry murmurs, “Who, who, who’s to blame? Someone must be to blame!”

I wonder…was there too much wear and tear on the center pole? Did the bigger animals scratch their backs against it one too many times? Did the four steady corner poles pull too much, putting opposing pressures on the center?

Did maintenance forget to oil and varnish the pole regularly? Or was it just the wrong type of pole for this tent in the first place?

Some moooooo, “A bigger, stronger pole is needed.” But I wonder… would that overwhelm the integrity of the four corner poles who have worked so hard to keep the tent erect for so many years?

Others caw caw, “Do we need a center pole at all? Why not re-design the roof and rely on the steadiness of the four corner poles?” But I wonder… what about the animals who enjoy circling around the center pole, meeting in the middle of the tent for cross-species communication?

A few bark, “It’s time to eliminate all poles and create an entirely new structure!” But I wonder… what about those animals who love their 50 year old canvas tent? The smells of past giraffes and zebras and rhinos.
So, what do we do? Hire a pole specialist? An animal specialist? Or both?

Meanwhile, the bruised need ice packs, and the bleeding need tourniquets. Those in shock, warm blankets. I wonder… can we tend to our wounded and work together to raise our roof? Can we listen deeply to the throaty whispers as well as the strident shouts? Can we begin to look beyond our beaks, our claws, and our sharp teeth and rebuild trust? Can we learn how to avoid this type of unexpected calamity in the future? So that we can get on with our buzzing and squealing and chirping and chattering?

I wonder.