From the Jaws of Death

At first it looked like just another striking human-interest headline: “Colorado Woman Pries Open Mountain Lion’s Jaws to Rescue Son.”

Headline writers love this sort of thing. It has it all: man against beast, parental love, a happy ending.

So it’s not surprising that the AP story was carried all over the world, from Hamodia to the South China Morning Post. But we suggest that there is more to this than just a catchy headline, and it’s worth pondering for a moment.

Unlike the recent incident at the Cincinnati Zoo where a gorilla was shot dead to save a small boy who had entered its enclosure, arousing the indignation of sorely misguided animal supporters, this was a non-controversial example of heroism. The wild animal had pounced on a 5-year-old boy playing just outside his home near Aspen. Responding to her child’s screams, the mother rushed over and literally pulled her son’s head from the jaws of death. He was flown to a Denver hospital for emergency treatment, and the mother also suffered from bites.

The mountain lion disappeared, but wildlife officials killed two of them in the area soon after the attack. The animals were being examined to determine if they were hungry, diseased or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The wildlife authorities acted responsibly. There are an estimated 4,500 mountain lions in the state, and they are known to sometimes invade urban areas looking for food. They have killed three people and injured 18 in Colorado since 1990.

As for the boy’s mother, in this case there was no need for a prosecutor to conclude that she did nothing wrong. She hadn’t left her son to wander off; he was playing by their house, not by a lion’s den. It is indisputably a story of a parent who risked her own life to save her son.

On the one hand, we could say that this isn’t really remarkable. It’s only what any normal parent would do. How could she possibly stand by or run away while her son was in mortal danger?

But it may not be as simple as that. Not every parent would necessarily respond this way. In this case, it might have been justifiable, given the circumstances, that she would have run back into the house to call for help rather than try to overpower a predatory beast. Why, she might have reasoned, should she get herself killed or mauled along with the boy?

But she understood instantly that were she to stop and call for help, her son might be dead by the time aid arrived. So, instead, she did what she felt she had to do. Without stopping to contemplate the risks, she wasted no time and did what might have been thought impossible — wrested her son from the deadly grip of a mountain lion.

Officials later commented that it was not a full-grown 110-pounder, but only two years old. But in the moment of life-and-death decision-making, the woman had no time to weigh the beast or estimate its age or the bettors’ odds on a physical confrontation. She saw her son in danger and she acted.

Beyond appreciating the sheer heroism involved, we can also take inspiration from this story. There are many times in life, albeit not so dramatic as this, when the challenges we face seem insuperable. If there is time to think and consider, and to take counsel with chachamim before acting, we do so. If not, we do what we feel is right and daven for siyatta diShmaya.

Even if there is time to deliberate, the way forward may require courage, determination and resourcefulness that we do not think we possess.

Every child needs to know about his or her parent that no matter what the challenge, no matter what the cost or risk, the parent will be there for the child.

This is also how we should approach our avodas Hashem in general: With the right kind of resolve we can do almost anything. Including prying open the jaws of a mountain lion.