Somewhere between Philadelphia and Baltimore there is a poorly marked road. It is a suspicious dirt path lined with tall trees. While a normal person would perceive the sound of the wind rustling through the trees as one of the God-given gifts of nature, I understand it to be the spirit of the forest whispering an ominous and scratchy, “Get out!” My parents, however, are braver than I am, and we keep driving until we reach a wooden sign in the shape of a giraffe that reads “Zoo.” This zoo is home to a random assortment of animals: buffalo, goats, a porcupine, alpacas, zebras, some bears, two tigers, a wolf, some chickens, some turkeys, rabbits, and several peacocks that run around screaming like children in need of attention. There is also a giraffe named Geoffrey. For about five dollars, you can feed Geoffrey a few twigs of leaves from trees grown at the zoo. That is why we are here.
When my turn comes, I give Geoffrey the first offering. He his sticks tongue out and wraps it around the branch, tickling my fingers in the process. “His tongue is scratchy!” I tell the zoo employee. She is immune to this wonder, and she nods her head the way someone would if you just told them that ice was cold.
My mom, camera in hand, asks, “Are you going to get him a friend?” The male employee tells us that the zoo is currently raising money for a larger giraffe habitat that will accommodate multiple giraffes. He then informs us that in the wild giraffes do not travel in traditional herds. “They are always coming and going.” I read this fact on Wikipedia a few years earlier. Apparently, giraffe groups are in a constant state of evolution. Giraffes come and go every few hours and scientists define their community as “a collection of individuals moving in the same direction.” I love that phrase. It makes me want to leap in circles.
“Do the other giraffes get mad when one leaves?” I ask. The female zoo employee looks at me with a face of sheer boredom. She’s probably going to make fun of me on Twitter later. The male employee shrugs, “They are probably used to it.” I look at Geoffrey. Does the decision to leave come with weeks of emotional turmoil and guilt? Do the giraffes who choose to stay abruptly cut off communication with the deserter because forgetting that someone existed is easier than missing them? Does the departing giraffe spends the entire journey from point A to point B thinking about going back to his friends. Geoffrey doesn’t provide an answer to any of these questions. Instead, he sticks his tongue out and takes a branch this time sticking around to pose for a picture.
One quiet morning I am sitting in my bed holding a copy of the entire The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m supposed to be packing because I'm preparing for a move of my own, but I am begging C.S Lewis, (Uncle Clive, as I like to call him) to give me a reason to stay nestled in the comforts of where I am. "He'll be coming and going," I read about Aslan. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right.”
I’ve always seen Aslan as a character who arrives, but this is the first time I've realized that he is also someone who leaves. It has never occurred to me that Aslan spent most of the books traveling, arriving, and walking away. Moreover, while the characters who knew and loved him missed him, they didn’t hate him for leaving because they recognized that where he was going was somewhere he needed to be.
I have moved at least eleven times in 27 years. I don’t have to wonder for very long what would possess a giraffe, a lion, or a person to leave familiar surroundings and communities to wander to somewhere new. When I moved to Philadelphia, I wanted it to be my forever home. I wanted this to be the place where I planted roots that would grow deep and wide. But I am not a tree, and physical roots do not come to me naturally no matter how much I want them to. Today, however, I don't feel so convicted. I think about the way Aslan does what he needs to and quietly slips away, and the giraffe who wakes up one morning and decides to turn left instead of staying with the group. I think it is time for me to go and I think it might be all right. I think it is quite all right.