I am devoted to Rhinos and have, over the years, attempted to meditate with the requisite zeal (though with varying degrees of success). Nevertheless, the idea of a book about meditating with Rhinos induced a minor eye-rolling incident. I was expecting something predictably clichéd and wretchedly one-dimensional. I was bored already. After all, everyone I know seems to be on at least one of those bandwagons. I considered instructing somebody less cerebral to read and summarise. (This horrifying pomposity made me realize with hindsight that my efforts at meditation require more fervor.)
Anyway, I was wrong in every sense. I was utterly moved by this book. I wept over each traumatised Rhino baby. I found it to be rich, satisfying, challenging and multi faceted. Helena Kriel writes with profound tenderness about her relationships with Rhinos but she also writes with astonishing wisdom and vulnerability and from her own experience about relationships with humans. Mature romantic relationships, gone both right and wrong. She explains that animals respond to connection rather than to instruction and that fundamentally humans are no different. As a relational litmus test she asks: “Can you bring more light into the world with this person than you are able to achieve alone? And if you answer yes, this fits the description of partnership in the truest sense of the word.” I love this.
Helena Kriel writes in a way that resonates deeply about the connection that links every living thing on our planet. She makes a case for the fact that truly loving a dog provides sufficient purpose for an entire lifetime of existence. She helps me understand why we do the things we do. Even when the cynics insist that we are fighting a losing battle. She reinforces my belief that hope is a doing word: “Doing nothing translates into a feeling of pain. Doing nothing paralyses me…. Action is the only recourse. I don’t believe I can change the world but I can do something.”
I have become an ardent fan of Helena Kriel and I plan to track down her other work (she is a playwright and a screenwriter). I have become a devotee of her Rhino babies and will follow their progress with passion and care. But I have become a groupie of the Rhino sanctuary founder and manager, Petronel Niewoudt, to whom the book is dedicated. She is the ultimate real life Afrikaans action heroine we have all been waiting for. She is a force of nature and (although she has neither the time nor the inclination) the rest of the planet needs to meet her.