Who Are We?

Calvin stood motionless as he observed the magnificent beast walk past him, just a few feet away. Apparently, the unicorn did not see Calvin. Otherwise, the animal would have bolted. Instead, it was the picture of serenity as it grazed on fresh clover. The creature’s back shuddered from time to time,  spraying morning dew that had gathered on its haunches into the air. Calving reached over his shoulder and, in slow motion so as not to draw the beast’s attention, drew an arrow from the quiver hanging on his back. He slipped the knock of the arrow into the bow string, carefully placed the shaft in the arrow rest,  and pulled back on the string.

What in the name of God am I doing? I’m about to kill a unicorn. This is insane.

Whether it was his thought or the motions of his arms that triggered the unicorn’s response, something alerted the animal to his presence. Suddenly, the unicorn raised its head. Its neck turned toward Calvin and its eyes fixed on him. In less than the time it takes to blink, the rampant beast was on Calvin, its hooves pummeling him. It knocked Calvin to the ground and stepped on the bow, snapping it in pieces like a matchstick. The animal drew back and lowered its head and then charged toward Calvin. The spiral horn punctured Calvin’s chest, piercing his sternum and snapping his spine before exiting his back. It raised its head with Calvin impaled on its horn. Spinning its head in semi-circles, the beast cast Calvin’s body into the air. Its gleaming white horn covered with Calvin’s blood, the animal rushed toward the creek. It dipped its horn into the rushing water and rinsed away the blood.

The unicorn lived to a ripe old age. Never again did it encounter humans carrying hunting paraphernalia. It died in its sleep on a winter evening many years later, after a delightful dinner of clover and spring water. Calvin, as you might have guessed, died before he was cast off the animal’s horn. We don’t know who mourned his death; perhaps no one did. And we have no idea why he was in the enchanted forest with a bow and arrow. Actually, we don’t even know where this enchanted forest is. And we have no information about Calvin’s surname; we assume he had one, but that’s not certain. The newspaper accounts of his demise have yet to be written. Perhaps in another time his obituary will appear in a small-town newspaper; that might reveal something about his background, his family, and other tidbits about his life that will make his passing more meaningful than it has been heretofore. What we do know about Calvin is this: we know his first name, we know he carried a bow and a quiver of arrows, and we know he was about to kill a unicorn before having second thoughts about such an undertaking. And we know he died, impaled on the unicorn’s horn. Why should we care about Calvin? And why should we care about the unicorn? The answers to those questions rest not with logic, but with whatever generic empathy we hide deep in our hearts. Maybe it’s there. Maybe it’s not. If we live our lives in accord with soulless logic, the tragedy of Calvin and the unicorn that killed him do not matter. Nothing does. And that’s the pity of it, isn’t it?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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