My children and I visited Copenhagen Zoo with my parents many years back.  The Zoo had a lion pride with a male, 2-3 females, and cubs of varying sizes.  The lions have a fairly nice area – at least compared to the cage atrocity that was showcasing big cats in my childhood.  Their outdoor enclosure has a high concrete wall to the back behind which are the indoor cat facilities.  In front of the wall is a sandy-lawny area with some downed trees, there is a water basin, and then a deep ditch, bushes, and a railing between people and cats.  The concrete wall curves around the “beach” so at one end is the cats’ entry to the cat house and at the other end a very sturdy small window.

My youngest was very fond of lions, having watched Disney’s The Lion King, so I led him around to the window from where he could look along the “beach” and get a little closer.  With the awe and love that can only come out of a little child, he looked through the window and whispered “Simba.”

And the big male, who until that moment had been lounging at the opposite end of the enclosure, raised his head to look straight at us, got up, sauntered slowly over to us, and sat down right on the other side of the glass, looking directly at my son.

Let me tell you, when a male lion is 2-3 feet away from you, you notice the size of them differently than when they are on TV.  There is a reason lion tamers have been able to put their heads in lions’ mouths.  There is plenty of room to spare. But his was not a menacing look; just one living creature seeing another seeing them lovingly – “You called; here I am.”  A joy to witness.

This memory revisited me because of a Friendship Bench discussion about belonging, oneness, what are we?  It crisscrossed in my feed with a video with Emily Levine discussing her own mortality and her contribution to “the circle of life”, the title of the opening song from The Lion King.

Obviously, I am not the dead skin cell that washed down the drain this morning.  It is wherever it went, and I am still here.  And if that and all my other cells will be circulated multiple times in and out of my body over my lifetime, clearly “I” am not my cells.  And if I am not my cells and you are not yours, does it matter how our chromosomes are organized?  How many Xs and Ys are in the mix?  How well my skin is genetically disposed to protect me from harmful UV rays (not nearly well enough) or to absorb Vit D (not nearly well enough, either)?

Does it even matter that my DNA and cells are organized into the body of a human? 

We are so enamored with our prefrontal cortex and all its abilities, but can we sense from 100 ft away that a little boy wants our attention and thinks that we are the most fantastic being on earth?  To him, right now, in this moment…

Are we even aware of this moment – right now?  Or do our thoughts get in the way?

Next time around, perhaps I should be an apple tree…


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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