When I was a wide-eyed lad with fan like ears and knees sticking out like door knobs, my cùcù told that hyenas laugh when hunting. Then cackle the night away after feeding on rotting carrion. After that they giggle some amorous hyena gibberish as they make future hyenas. Fun, huh? I mean the giggles. Far from it.
A hyena’s howl is the most blood curdling sound in the African savanna. I came to know that after working in the Northern Kenya region for a while. A typical night in North Eastern Kenya is punctuated with hordes of hyenas howling at your dreams. Long mournful howls that hover above you like hangman’s noose, waking you from the deepest slumber.
You wake up panting, fear crawling up your back like a cold lizard. You are almost sure that the beasts are some inches away from your bed. It only takes a local to tell you that the howling beasts are more than two miles away. In addition, hyenas rarely attack people. With that consolation, you gently slumber back into your sleep.
You see the fear of a hyena is warranted .That animal can eat anything-alive or dead. Stories abound about hyenas that were put in houses of aluminum iron sheets but ate their way out. The hyena doesn’t have the strongest teeth tag for nothing. Thus, despite its cowardly howls, it’s still feared, though not as much as its canine cousins like the leopard or the lion.
And that is the same with life. We are always running scared of things that are too far away from us. Or things that will never harm us. We are always scared of things imaginary. But does it matter whether that which scares you is real or imaginary?
That howl of aging that keeps you awake is way far away. That hyena of losing your job that howls so scaringly near may never harm you at all. The howls of a life threatening disease may not be true.
A story is told about a criminal who committed a crime and was sent to the king for punishment. After hearing his case, the king issued a death decree on the criminal. But the king was benevolent enough and gave the criminal a choice:
‘Look, you can be hung by a rope, or take what’s behind that big, dark, scary iron door’. He said, pointing to an ugly gothic door that had spikes sticking from it.
The condemned man looked at the door and heard it creak eeringly like an opening to an underground dungeon. He then finally settled on the hangman’s noose. As the noose was being tightened around his thick hairy neck, he asked the king:
‘By the way, out of curiosity, whats behind that door?’
The king let out a guttural laugh and said:
‘I always offer everyone that same choice, but they all pick the rope’.
‘So, what’s behind the door? ‘The criminal pressed on. ‘Obviously, I won’t tell anyone’, he said, pointing to the noose around his neck.
The King paused, and then answered:
‘Freedom, but it seems that most people are afraid of the unknown and the take the rope-and death’.
Most of the times, we are more scared of the things that we can’t see that of the things that we can see. Like the criminal in this case, we end up choosing the noose-which we know-instead of freedom. Our fear of the unknown leads us to our sad ends.
Conquering the fears of the things that we don’t know is one of the greatest human triumphs. Why? Because when you are scared, it doesn’t matter whether what is scaring you is real or not-you are scared!