Many years ago when I was in my late-twenties I was traveling with an overland group through Botswana in southern Africa. For some inexplicable reason, the group organizer had arranged our overnight accommodations in the center of a crocodile farm.
In my youthful, invincible mind, it seemed like a good choice of camp grounds. Pitch a tent two hundred yards from a football field sized enclosure filled with hibernating 6- to 8-foot crocodiles. Seemed reasonable enough.
In fairness, sleeping in a nylon tent close to seventy crocodiles is probably not on most mothers’ lists when advising their children of what not to do. Don’t hitchhike, don’t talk to strangers, and other general wisdom focusing on setting boundaries and ensuring safety- check. Sleeping near crocodiles was never mentioned.
Once the tents were assembled, a friend and I walked over to the pit of crocodiles to see them in their full glory. It was the middle of winter, so they were purportedly more lethargic and docile than in the summer months. The ‘farm’ was the same dirt we were sleeping on, a few trees, and a small watering hole for the enormous inhabitants.
These 55-million-year old creatures are an engineer’s dream: compact, astonishingly strong, and efficiently low to the ground. On land they can move quickly at tops speeds of between 15-20 mph. They are also extremely aggressive.
As is typical of many under funded rural African villages, the enclosure separating us from them was limited. The pit was surrounded by vertical bamboo poles approximately 5-feet tall that looked like toothpicks standing shoulder to shoulder. The poles were an inch in diameter and held together with loose twine.
I was sporting my new camera with an extended telephoto lens. Externally I was playing the part of the aspiring National Geographic photographer, internally I was petrified. As I am 5’5, I had to stand on my tippy-toes to get the 4-inch lens over the bamboo fence. With my hiking boots wedged against the bamboo I was able to lean over the top of the fence and started merrily snapping photos.
My friend James, an Australian pharmacist, progressed further along the fence so we were about ten feet from one another. I continued taking photos, building confidence with the passing of time. It was a beautiful sunny day.
Until James casually called me over to his spot along the fence. I stepped away and walked towards him. Once next to him, he asked me to look back to see where I had been standing before coming to his side.
Unbeknownst to me because of my limited lower visual field, I had been standing an inch away from the snout of a 7-foot, toothy crocodile. This Herculean beauty was facing out towards the fence and all that had separated us was the make-shift bamboo fence.
Thankfully, crocodiles have horrible depth perception immediately in front of them because of the placement of their eyes on the side of their heads. We were also told that if an obstacle (like my new friend the bamboo fence) was placed in front of a crocodile, the crocodile would not push through it. The poor croc missed out on afternoon lunch because he perceived a one-inch fence as an insurmountable barrier to his freedom and food.
I wonder how often we do the same in our daily lives? If someone places an artificial barrier in front of us, how often do we accept it as legitimate and insurmountable? Or how often do we construct these barriers ourselves?
While we don’t need to naively walk up to a field of crocodiles as an expression of our inner strength and courage. I wonder how often we let opportunities pass us by because we, like the crocodile, limit our dreams or expectations of ourselves? Each day is a new day to imagine the impossible. If we push through our flimsy, make-shift fences, what unanticipated gifts await us on the other side?