Bertie gets ticked off…

On the far away eastern coast of a vast continent, and not far from a small abandoned village situated alongside a rough-looking beach, there lived a small-for-his-age rhino named Bertie. 

Although Bertie was now in his middle years, (rhinos live until their mid-50’s),  because of his smallish size, he was often mistaken for being younger than he actually was. For this reason, the other creatures he encountered around the beach would speak to Bertie as if he were a child. They would freely interrupt him, correct him and sometimes shake their heads and tell Bertie that he was wrong, mistaken or just naive.

This made Bertie very upset. Why couldn’t they just listen to him without having to make him wrong? What made them think that they knew everything, anyway?

Bertie’s encounters with the other creatures always ended poorly. In his preteen years, he had gotten into really dreadful physical fights that looked terrifying.

As Bertie entered his 20’s and 30’s, he continued to have difficult encounters with the other creatures that ended in angry conflict.  However, instead of the scary physical fighting of his younger years, Bertie would shoot them an angry look and lower his head with its diminutive horn in what he hoped was an aggressive manner, and he spat out hurtful words at them, intended to make the other creatures back off.

Over the last year or so, Bertie had simply been abruptly leaving interactions with the other creatures as soon as they started expressing opinions different than his own. Bertie would become intensely silent, squint his little eyes tightly and just shut down. But inside, he burned with a fiery rage, feeling like he might explode. It didn’t help that Bertie’s hide was infested with ticks, (a common condition for rhinos), which made him feel very uncomfortable. With his hide in this condition, it didn’t take much to make Bertie angry.

Over the past month, Bertie had stopped interacting with the other creatures altogether. It was too predictable and painful to realize that other creatures had their own opinions and attitudes and they weren’t going to listen to him. Better to just be alone, thought Bertie.

Rhinos, as a whole, don’t spend time with other rhinos. Bertie had never had any rhinos friends with whom he could talk, and for that reason, he had been feeling very lonely. Lonely, isolated, misunderstood and not listened to by the other creatures. He felt miserable inside, and because of the ticks, outside, as well.

One day, as Bertie was plodding along in his clumsy and deliberate way along the beach, snuffing around for some vegetation, a Tickbird suddenly swooped down and landed on Bertie’s back. This startled Bertie. He jerked around in an awkward bucking-like way, sand from the beach splaying everywhere. The bird remained gracefully atop Bertie’s back during all these gyrations, emitting a tuneful whistle and a churring sound at some of the stronger twists and kicks of the rhino beneath him. After a short time, Bertie felt tired from all the jumping and kicking, and he came to a stop.

Bertie’s eyesight was quite poor, something that all rhinos have in common. The Tickbird stood on Bertie’s back, whistling and churring. Bertie twisted his smaller-than-average neck around, but he  couldn’t get even a fuzzy look at his unexpected visitor. The Tickbird continued whistling as it busily strutted back and forth on Bertie’s back.

Bertie’s mind suddenly started filling with dark and angry thoughts. How dare this creature walk all over me? How disrespectful other creatures are! Bertie stood trembling and tense, (still huffing and puffing a little), aware of the anger building up within him.

Just as he was getting ready to erupt with anger, Bertie suddenly felt a gentle pecking and plucking sensation on his back. The Tickbird, munching on a tick from Bertie’s hide started talking with his beak full, garbling out an enthusiastic appreciation for the tick dinner he was enjoying. The Tickbird’s voice was so cheerful and lighthearted.

Bertie paused for a moment. What was going on here? This was the first time he could recall another creature speaking in a positive, appreciative and lighthearted way.

The Tickbird introduced himself as ‘Ox’,  short for Oxpecker. Bertie, who had always been a little embarrassed by his nickname, told Ox that his full name was Bertrand, but that Ox could call him Bertie, as that was what everyone else had called him. Ox sang out that Bertrand was a splendid name, and began whistling and churring “Bertrand, Bertrand,” over and over again in such a cheerful manner. Bertie felt an involuntary small smile begin to form on his lips.

The sun was starting to go down. Bertie trudged through the rough, sandy beach towards the shelter of some trees near the abandoned village to settle down for the night. Perched on Bertie’s back, Ox kept chattering away, telling Bertie colorful stories about all the places and experiences Ox had experienced during his travels.

Bertie, half-listening to Ox, could feel the tenseness leaving his body and he noticed that the dark and difficult thoughts from earlier were drifting away, too. Bertie yawned and awkwardly plopped down on the ground while Ox continued from one story to the next.

Shortly, (Bertie was not sure if he was half-awake or half-asleep), he could hear Ox telling a story about rhinos who lived in floodplains and grasslands, and yet others who lived in swamps and rainforests, but Ox had never heard of rhinos that lived on beaches. Bertie fell asleep, snoring gently.

As Bertie slumbered, he had a dream. In the dream, Bertie was living in grasslands that stretched as far as you could see. (Of course, that wouldn’t be very far for Bertie with his poor vision! Bertie nearly woke himself up laughing at his little joke). On the grasslands, the sun shone down, intensely hot, but not unpleasantly so.

On the grasslands, there were none of the other creatures from the beach, there were just other rhinos, like him. Bertie tried talking with one of the rhinos, who was quite young, and yet quite large, too. The young rhino started to disagree with Bertie about whatever they were talking about. Bertie expected to become angry, but for some reason, he didn’t.

In the dream, Bertie dimly began to realize that everyone has a different view of the world. If everyone has a different view of the world, then of course they are going to disagree with others. They literally see things differently. Everyone grows up with different thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. Everyone has unique experiences. They grow up accepting ideas about what is possible or not possible for them, based on the opinions of others who seemed to know what they are talking about.

All this time, Bertie had thought that others were disagreeing with him to provoke him when what was really happening was that others were seeing the world differently from Bertie and everyone else. Bertie realized that the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others belonged to them, and not to him. He didn’t have to react to or become defensive toward something that didn’t belong to him! How freeing this was! Still deep in his dream, Bertie felt this new understanding spreading to every fiber of his being. 

When Bertie awoke, the sun was just starting to rise over the distant edge of the ocean. Ox was still asleep on Bertie’s back, his belly full of ticks. The morning was cool. Bertie realized that his thick hide felt so much better now that many of the ticks had been removed. Bertie made himself laugh, “I don’t have to painfully hide anymore!”

Bert realized that he had been ticked for a long, long time. He recalled his dream, and he knew deep down that he wouldn’t be surprised anymore that the other creatures didn’t see things the same way he did. He actually looked forward to his interactions with the other creatures, knowing that what the other creatures thought of Bertie didn’t define Bertie at all. Their opinions and negative comments belonged to them, not to Bertie.

All Bertie had to do was remember that he could just let the other creatures be the way they were, because that’s how they were anyway! That felt so good. What a relief! He didn’t have to take on or push back against what they were thinking or saying, because all of that belonged to them, and not him.

Just then, Bertie realized that something was arising within him that he hadn’t felt in a long, long time: a quiet peace and joy. Shortly, Ox woke up, stretched and started chattering in his cheerful way. A new day had begun.

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