When I was 19, I took piano, violin, and music theory from an eccentric Hungarian musician who liked to talk a lot about escaping communism. He also liked to tell Hungarian jokes.
In a book of translated Hungarian poetry, (by the poet Miklos Radnoti—seriously, check him out. He’s awesome), I read in the translator’s notes that humor is very hard to translate between the two languages because Hungarian humor is about overstatement and English humor is about understatement. I didn’t really get what he meant until I met that music teacher and had to endure his jokes.
(I’m not throwing stones, by the way. If the humor is that different, I’m sure he had to lie back and think of Hungary during my jokes as well.)
This one in particular he liked to tell.
A man went to the zoo and the zookeeper took him on a tour. He took him to see the elephants and said, “These are elephants.” The man said, “Oh yes. Those are elephants.” The zookeeper took him to see the tigers and said, “These are tigers.” The man said, “Oh yes. Those are tigers.” At the end of the tour, the zookeeper took the man to see the giraffes and said, “These are giraffes.” The man said. “Oh no. Giraffes don;’t exist.”
End of joke.
Imagine him, Santa Claus belly heaving with laughter. Gods love that man. One of my favorite people in life.
But back to the non-existent giraffes. They bring to mind a spiritual principle regarding gifts from the gods or from a god.
I tried to explain this once to a friend who was having a very hard time in life and I screwed it all up. When I asked her if she got what I was saying, she answered honestly and said no. I was no comfort at all. Let’s see if I can do better here.
I believe a god can do pretty much whatever a god wants to do within the boundaries of her intelligence and physical/spiritual evolution. A god’s existence and abilities do not hang on our belief in her and what she is or is not capable of doing. If a god wants to give you a gift, a god can give you a gift regardless of whether you asked for it or not, or whether or not you even believe in that god.
(Now there’s something to think about: Might you have ever received a gift from a god you don’t believe in? Would that have been a good or bad thing?)
But here’s the thing:
If that gift were a giraffe, and the god led it to you on a fluorescent pink, sparkly lead, but you didn’t believe in giraffes, the god may leave it right in front of you, but you wouldn’t in a million years recognize it as a giraffe. You would look right past it or maybe even wonder who the hell left this lanky-necked thing in your way. Another obstacle. Why is life so hard?
You would never know the gift from god was a gift unless you believed in gifts from gods.
Life really can be hard when you don’t believe in giraffes.
A god can give you a gift regardless of your belief in that god, in divine gifts, or in the gift itself, but if you truly don’t believe in gifts from god, or you are at a place in your life where you’re sure your god has abandoned you and is fresh out of gifts for you, you will never receive it and it will never be useful to you—it will never improve your life.
Am I making sense, or do you want to sit on the other end of the couch from me right now and tell me I’m full of it? I can see it going hard either way.
My Most Beloved God (MBG) offered a different metaphor. Suppose your MBG were a delivery man, (an apt analogy for mine), and he brought the gift right to your door. Suppose you saw the delivery man, but were sure his hands were empty. The gift exists anyway. He is extending it to you in good faith. But there his hands are—empty. He can’t give it to you that way.
As my MBG put it: “I’m not very well going to peg you in the back with it as you turn away from me. I may leave it on the doorstep but, you know, porch pirates and all—weather—vermin. It may be gone or ruined by the time you get to it.”
That’s why life is so hard when you don’t believe in giraffes or do believe in delivery people who come to your door with empty hands.
In order for the transaction to be truly complete, the giver must give and the receiver must receive.
Why do we so often not allow ourselves to receive? Why do we insist the thing that is right there before us is not only not the gift, but not even a gift? Why do we make our lives that hard?
If your god is a “friend of humanity,” chances are, she is full of gifts for you, both asked for and unasked. We need to start believing that a giraffe is possible in order to receive the giraffe and understand how that giraffe will benefit us, as gifts from gods almost always will.
I know it’s a fantastical thing to believe in. Giraffes have blue tongues after all. But they do exist and they can be extremely helpful, if for no other reason than that they are soft to pet, interesting to look at, and fun to feed.
(Thank you my MBG for not pegging me in the back with unrecognized gifts. My back would be broken ten times over by now.)