Calum McSwiggan

The Whole Universe

In Eat, Love on June 29, 2013 at 8:59 am

Tiger Markings

‘The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature, with nature.”

– Joseph Campbell

The morning sun had just begun to rise as I sleepily wandered out into the tiger yard and watched the cubs come bounding out of their cage. Aged six to twelve months, they were still considered babies, and yet when fully stretched out they were easily taller than me. With their monstrous paws they could effortlessly floor you in a single well-timed pounce- I’d seen the damage those claws and teeth could do in the grievous wounds of my fellow volunteers- but fortunately, I hadn’t been injured just yet.

I had barely been working at the temple a week, and was still struggling with remember all ten of the cubs’ names. I watched them closely, matching their sizes, markings, and personalities to the names I had scattered in my mind. I spotted Jupiter first, wrestling in the water with Orion, and then noticed Apollo, Gemini, and Venus playfully rolling around atop the hill.

I found it so difficult to place them, when they moved they just looked like dazzling black and orange blurs, but each of them was different, and with time and patience their names continued to come. I knew Mercy by his shaggy matted fur as he rolled around in the dirt, panting goofily as he soaked up the sun; Solo crouched low as she began stalking her prey, creeping up slowly behind one of the volunteers, before Neptune bound into action and pulled her to the floor; and Galaxy was last out of his cage, looking around with those familiar sleepy eyes before slowly plodding out into the yard.

That was all of them, I thought, mentally adding up the number of the tigers I’d accounted for. I doubled back to ensure I hadn’t missed any, and just when I had myself convinced that that was all ten, the ground shook beneath me and the last tiger sank his teeth into my leg. He pulled me to the ground and tore at the flesh, refusing to let go until I gently smacked him away and watched the blood pour down my leg.

I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and aside from my secret desire to get bitten by a tiger to have a cool scar to show off, this bite was the start of something incredible. For every terrible thing that happens in life, I believe that The Universe has a plan, and that everything works out for the best. Getting bitten by a tiger was no different.

Who was that? I said, knowing I’d accounted for nine of the tigers but couldn’t seem to place the last one’s name. I climbed to my feet and  pointed at the tiger which now slinked away to the back of the yard magnificently as if nothing had happened at all. Universe, one of the staff told me, he never usually bites. I looked at the eight puncture marks from where his enormous teeth had sank into my flesh, and knew that this was no coincidence. The Universe was trying to tell me something, and what better way than taking a chunk out of my leg.

I wanted to get to know this tiger immediately, and he quickly became my favourite. I’d snatch up a dog lead every morning and pick him out of the bunch by the fascinating markings on his face, snapping him up and out of the yard and letting him walk me to the temple. He’d pull the same tricks every morning, walking peacefully until he saw something he wanted, and then dragging me around like a rag doll until he had it.

I was prepared every single day when we climbed the temple steps, anticipating the rush that would follow as soon as the sacred monk platform came into view. I have absolutely no idea what his fascination with it was, but stepping up was forbidden, and I’m pretty sure he just wanted to get me into trouble. With every ounce of strength I could muster, I’d wrap my arms around his heaving galumphing chest and try to drag him to his resting spot beside Mercy. He’d put up a fight for a few minutes, and then eventually settle down with his companion, and the two of them would look out over the forest and fantasize about killing the roaming wildlife.

Apart from his shenanigans and the fact that he took a bite out of my leg as a way of introducing himself, he was the calmest and most trustworthy tiger there was. You could place your head between his humongous paws, wrap your finger around one of his canines, or take a nap on his colossal hulking chest.

He’d let you do anything you wanted, provided you had good intentions, and he’d calmly stare at you with the fondness of a house cat, chuffing affectionately, removing all the hair from your arm with his enormous sandpaper tongue, and playfully swiping for that bottle of milk that he knows you have in your back pocket.

I loved spending time with him, a small part of me was beginning to understand the idea of karma, and I believed that everything I did for this tiger was a repayment to The Universe. Every religion has its deity, Buddhists have The Buddha image, Catholics have Jesus on the cross, and I had Universe, this wonderful living breathing creature.

As the weeks passed by, the wound on my leg began to heal and fade, disappointingly not leaving the impressive scar I’d secretly hoped would remind me of Universe forever. I looked down at him as he lay in my lap lazily, and I knew that the next time I saw him again after I left, he’d be twice the size and able to kill a man with a single swipe, but he’d still have those exact same markings on his face. I gently stroked them with my fingertips, and without having to think about it, I knew immediately that I was going to have them tattooed to my chest.

Getting bitten by Universe was the perfect metaphor for everything I believe in, and every time I look down and see my tattoo, I don’t feel like I just have the markings of a tiger imprinted on my chest, I feel like I have the whole universe engraved above my heart- a permanent reminder that everything does happen for a reason. A terrible break up lead to a new found freedom; a cancelled trip to America lead to a life changing decision; and getting my leg ripped apart by a tiger lead to a friendship that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

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