The “Endangered” Alligator Man

By Sulana Stone

Sometimes we miss seeing our greatest talent! Sometimes we view our lives from such a narrow perspective that we don’t notice the most important gift we’re bringing to the world. I suspect this may be the case with an enchanting man I met in a Florida wildlife park: James Peacock. Profession: alligator wrestler.

Immediately it strikes me that Peacock is an unlikely name for a man who makes a living wrestling gators and handling venomous snakes. Eventually I discover that James has exceptional talents that far outshine the brilliant feathers of his namesake.

Don’t Let Surface Appearances Fool Ya!

For years attendance at alligator wrestling shows has been on the decline. According to an article by the Associated Press, “It’s the alligator wrestlers, not the gators, that are an endangered species.” After visiting with James, I realize that how James shares his rare gifts—as a gator wrangler—may be endangered. Yet what James shares is not endangered but highly valuable to people and the planet. James has a knack for igniting the dreams of children and keeping the dreams alive. And James has the skill of an alchemist. Instead of transforming lead into gold, the alligator man transforms fear into love!

Kids Living Their Dream

During the gator and snake stunts, James tells the crowd that the children who assist him volunteer to work at the park. The kids work for free. And they do a lot of dirty work! I watch the kids drain an alligator pond with a huge 12-foot alligator freely roaming about the small enclosure. Then with bare hands the children sift through the muck looking for cherished treasures: alligator teeth!

All the while the kids excitedly—and very carefully—remove crawfish and baby turtles from harm’s way. You see, the alligator has a couple of large turtle buddies. James informs us that the hefty turtles are too large for the gator to eat. But, tiny baby turtles? They’re a tasty snack for the scaly beast.

Following the gator show, the children entertain and educate park visitors by introducing non-venomous snakes and small gators to the guests. My fear of swamp creatures melts as the kids give me clear instructions on how to support each reptile so the critters won’t get hurt or scared. I’m thrilled to hold a python and gator!

And all the kids field questions from the visitors. As anyone knows who interacts with the public, working with people can be more challenging than … well … wrestling a gator! And the kids demonstrate unlimited kindness and patience with the crowd.

No one pays these kids money. But James rewards the kids with something more valuable than cash. In his “off time,” James takes the children into the Florida Everglades where they learn how to catch and handle wild swamp creatures. And they learn to identify venomous and non-venomous snakes.

It’s obvious that the kids—along with James Peacock—are doing what they love! They’re living lives with passion and purpose. A passion for creepy crawlies that most people fear or loathe. A purpose for helping wary visitors transform fear and disgust into love—or at least respect for other living creatures who share our planet.

A Waste of Time?

Since the Associated Press tells us that alligator wrestlers are the endangered species, can the gator man continue living his dream? Responding to an interviewer’s question about the declining number of visitors to alligator wrestling shows, James says, “Television shows and Internet videos about animals have had a big effect. The lessons are being taught in their own home, without harming any animals. So that’s the positive side. The negative side is, ‘Did I waste the last 17 years of my life learning how to do this?’”

Finding a Joyful Point of View

A haunting question: “Did I waste my life?” It’s a question many of us ask ourselves after investing time and energy into reaching a specific goal, then having the rug yanked out from under us. Having spent 20 years in two “failed” marriages, I could relate to James. I’d often asked myself if I wasted 20 years of my life. The feelings of being a failure hovered over me like a vulture. My “failure” point of view was eating away at my energy, health and enjoyment of life.

After years of self-judgment and blame, I found an answer. How good—or bad—I feel depends on my point of view. How much energy, health and enjoyment I have depends on how I look at my life.

Tunnel Vision Limits Happiness

I discover that the first way I often view a situation is from a very narrow outlook. There’s a part of me that is used to feeling hurt. Victimized. Wronged. A part that finds it easier to look at what’s wrong rather than what’s right. So my mind creates an arbitrary, narrowly-focused sad story about my life that describes what’s wrong. That part blames me or someone else for my hurt feelings. The result of viewing life from this narrow outlook is a loss of energy, health and joy.

This “tunnel vision” story—looks at life on the surface. In a nutshell, my made-up story about marriage was: if I stay married, I’m a success. If I don’t stay married, I’m a failure. End of story. Did I waste 20 years of my life learning how to be married? Yes—according to my limited point of view.

But what happens if I simply look at marriage from another point of view—from an expanded viewpoint?

A Scenic Overlook of Joy

What if I re-define the goal of marriage to be “learning how to be in a relationship” or “learning the ins and outs of authentic self-expression with a partner?” Then I look at the value I gained while I was married. From my expanded viewpoint I see that I learned a great deal about myself and other people. I learned that a person’s enthusiasm for living dies when they don’t follow their passion. And the spirit thrives when a person gives expression to their joy. I learned what happens when we don’t tell ourselves the truth about how we feel. I learned that people need the space and freedom to find their heart’s desire. And I learned the difference between living someone else’s dream and living our own.

So, the answer from an expanded viewpoint is a jubilant, “No! I didn’t waste my time. My time was well spent.”

What I learned while I was married provides a foundation for the work I do now: reaching out to people to help them find and express their true passion. And I assist people to move beyond feelings of failure into joyful relationships and livelihoods. How could I have learned about the steps to true transformation unless I walked the steps myself?

I’ve found that life offers us choices. We can choose to focus on where joy exists in the world—and create more joy. We can also choose to focus on what brings pain—and create more pain.

Creating Happiness is a Choice

I could have chosen to write a very different article about James Peacock. I could have focused on the fact that the market for alligator wresters is quickly fading. And made a case that James has wasted his life by becoming an alligator wrester. Or I could have focused on the issue that James spent his life developing a talent that animal rights groups often call cruel.

But what do I want to create in the world: more pain or more joy? Joy! So I ask myself, which viewpoint will create what I want? Will focusing on “the small picture” or “the scenic overlook” create more joy in the world? Will I create more happiness by looking at “what’s wrong” with the surface appearance or by looking for “what’s right” with an expanded view?

Life’s True Purpose

As a gator wrestler James Peacock may be an endangered species. But as a loving communicator James offers a priceless contribution to the world. James has a brilliant talent for inspiring and supporting children to live their dreams. And James has a blazing passion for living in harmony with swamp creatures that he imparts to children and adults.

James may not get to wrestle alligators forever. But forever he can excite kids with his enthusiasm and knowledge. Forever he can motivate kids who love swamp things so they can find a way to do what they love. Forever he can inspire people to open their hearts to swamp creatures. Isn’t this what James has really been doing for 17 years? James Peacock. Profession: Children’s Dream Keeper and Alchemist.