A Story without Tigers

“I have a story that will make you believe in God.” – Mamaji

In Yann Martel’s soul-searching novel, Life of Pi, the title character tells a story in which he is lost at sea in a lifeboat for 227 days.

The survival story alone would be riveting, tragic, and profound.

But in Pi’s story, he spends the majority of his journey sharing the lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The story is poignant and comic, and in many ways a coming of age story. I highly encourage you to go read it.

The core of the novel, however, is a better understanding of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones, “a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love.”

The novel presents us with two stories that recount Pi’s 227 day journey. Neither story can be proved or disproved. In one story,  the story with the tiger, the journey is fantastic. The deeds are heroic and memorable, and Pi states many times that he never would have survived without his deadly feline companion. Still, there seems no shortage of suffering and tragedy. The story cannot be falsified, and yet it seems impossible.

In the other version there are no animals, only the ocean and human cruelty and 227 days at sea.

Pi argues that the story is not only more likable with the tiger, but it is also better. There is love in it and meaning. There is lightning that splits the sky and thunder louder than a lion’s roar. There are storms and sunsets, curious whales, life-saving coincidences, and an ocean full of light.

So what does Life of Pi have to do with me?
In the spirit of my upcoming road trip, I need to have a few goals. This book gave me an important one: I want to be like Pi.

I want to make peace with all that is great and majestic and deadly in life. I don’t want a safe journey, a journey without surprises or detours or occasional jolts of fear. I want to be tested. I’m not asking for any full scale disasters, but I hope somewhere along the way I meet my tiger.

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