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The Legend of the Panda


Panda bear on bamboo

Thanksgiving Has Many Forms

A few days ago, I received an email from one of my co-workers. Where her picture could have been posted, there was a cute, cartoonish little Panda Bear, a character, I suspect, from a recent, popular animated film. Even the emoticon at the end of the message had a panda face signing off for her. It gave me reason to pause for a while and reflect as I remembered a time when every Thanksgiving morning, our parish priest loved to use this image as we gathered for the one spiritual Banquet in Church, getting ready for the meal that was waiting to meet our appetites, whether at our own homes or at the place we would go for the earthly, historical “Meal of all Meals.” That day for many years, always began with the legendary Chinese story of the Panda. He would even bring a small stuffed bear to the pulpit to illustrate what I believed was always a powerful lesson about giving thanks that had very little to do with overeating, exhausting cooking and imposed cleaning duties concluding with a rivalrous, raucous football game.

In that perennial sermon every November, we heard about the Tibetan legend of the panda and how they received their distinctive and unusual black and white markings. The legend relates that many, many years ago, when these bears lived in the Himalayas, they were completely white in color. They must have resembled polar bears more than any other creature at that time and they were very playful. They lived, as it were, in a type of wintery-Eden of seemingly pure innocence and peace. They were also friends with a certain shepherdess who would watch over the flocks and fields and seemed to be a type of protective yet, maternal figure for the cubs. And just like in the Garden of Eden, there was present in this snowy playground, mortal danger always lurking nearby.  It was the angry leopard, ravenous and envious of the sweet laughter and love of these child-like and guiltless souls. Late one afternoon, as the sun began to drop behind the majestic snow-capped mountains, the shepherdess began to herd all the bears home after a long day when she spotted a cub playing near the brush covering the base of the mountain. Suddenly, without warning, the leopard seized upon his wicked moment, leapt out in front of his young prey with only one deadly intention.  The shepherdess ran with all her might toward them both and threw herself in front of the cub and, after a mighty struggle, remained lifeless and silent upon the earth which stood hard as iron. She was simply no match for the vicious claws and fangs of the evil predator and its barbarous intentions and died protecting innocence upon the frozen ground. The horrific sounds of the battle mixed with the cries of the panda cub echoed throughout the valley and brought the remaining den of bears quickly to the scene. They arrived utterly stunned in disbelief at the sight of such carnage and butchery, the pristine snow-covered ground now drenched in layers of bright red casualty.

The next day they gathered for the funeral of the brave girl who risked everything to save one of their own. With broken hearts and tear-soaked faces they approached the place of burial where, as was their custom, they would gather and throw black ashes upon the neatly shrouded body as it was made ready for its final resting ground. But it was too much for them. One after the other, they could not contain their cries of pain and anguish. With ashes still in their paws, they wiped their eyes, held each other tightly, arm upon arm, and then held their ears shut so as to block the sounds of their grieving pain while they sat miserably in the remaining heaps of the dark, cold cinders. The once ivory-white fur of these pandas was now blackened like the night as their guardian and friend was laid to rest.

To this day, it is said, that those markings have remained to remind all of nature and all of humanity of that certain bravery and love until death, and to say, “Thank You.”

How will you give thanks today?

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