Gemma was a giraffe who felt awkward about being a giraffe. She looked at other animals and thought how she would like to be more like them. When she saw the zebras running at a gallop she wanted to run in a smooth, fluid motion like they did rather than in her own ungainly gait. When she saw the elephant, she wished she had a trunk with which she could vacuum up water and then spray it playfully over her own back or over her friends. When she saw the gazelle, she wished that she were as sleek and elegant as one of them.
She looked at her own reflection in a pond and thought what long, spindly legs she had. Her neck looked like a piece of chewing gum that had been held between two fingers and drawn out until it was as long as it could get without snapping. Of course, she didn't know what a piece of chewing gum was, but she did think that there wasn't another animal around with a neck as long or as ugly as hers. And then she had those two funny little horns at the top of her head. They weren't as big or strong as an antelope's horns. What good would they be if she had to defend herself? Then, too, her skin looked as though she were covered in rust-colored vinyl tiles that were distorted in shape as if her image had been reflected by those weird mirrors in a funhouse.
"Hey, you're a giraffe," her mother tried to reassure her. "This is the way that giraffes look. Just be yourself."
One day she came to a nice sandy patch and felt like rolling in the sand. Remembering her mother's words about being herself, she decided that was exactly what she would do. She lay down and began to flop from side to side, her ungainly legs kicking in the air. To an outsider she may have looked like a marionette that had been accidentally dropped by the puppeteer, the strings tangled, the master attempting to regain control ofhis wayward puppet. Ofcourse, Gemma wouldn't have known what a string-controlled marionette was, but she did hear a laugh and turned around to see a pack of hyenas that had crept out of the woods and were sitting in the grass laughing at her antics.
She struggled to her feet, walking away with her nose dragging the ground and thinking to herself, "So much for being yourself." Then, as if by magic, right in front of her appeared her fairy godmother. I'm not sure what a giraffe's fairy godmother looks like, but since this is our story I guess you can imagine her how you want.
"Your mother was right," said the fairy godmother, as if reading Gemma's thoughts. "It is important to be yourself, but it is also important how you be yourself. It isn't so much a matter of what you are not but who you are that makes the difference. It doesn't really matter if you can't gallop like a zebra, look like a gazelle, or play water games like an elephant. What is important is what you are good at. What is important is what you can do." And with those words the fairy godmother disappeared.
Gemma kept walking, her nose just a little higher off the ground, wondering what that was all about, when suddenly she saw a lioness running toward her. At first Gemma was frightened, but the lioness called out, "Don't panic! Please help me. My little cub has climbed up the tree and I can't get it down." Gemma stood on the tiptoes of her long spindly legs and stretched her elongated neck high up into the tree. In her mouth she gently picked up the little lion cub by the scruff of the neck, much like a mother cat might carry its kitten, and lowered it carefully to the ground.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," cried the lioness, so overjoyed at having her cub safely back in her care.
Gemma hadn't traveled much farther before she saw a distressed monkey jumping up and down on the edge of a cliff, crying out for help. "Gemma," called the monkey, "my baby has fallen over the cliff. She's down over the ledge, hanging on to a tree root, and I can't reach her. If someone doesn't get her soon, she may fall to her death."
Gemma knelt down on the edge of the cliff and stretched her long neck over the edge. "Grab hold of my horns," she said to the baby monkey. The young monkey reached out one hand at a time to grasp the fist-sized horns on which Gemma lifted her back over the ledge to safety.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," cried the mother monkey, overjoyed at having her baby safely back in her care.
Gemma was walking home, carrying her head a bit higher now, when her fairy godmother appeared in front of her again. "I guess there is no need for me to tell you," said the fairy godmother, "what you have just learned by doing the things that only you could have done. Cheetahs have become the fastest animals on earth not by wanting to be like a turtle but by developing their skill at running fast. By doing what you are good at, by building on your strengths, then truly you can be yourself.
"But I think that maybe you have learned more," continued the fairy godmother. "By using your unique skills to help those who may not have the same abilities, you have made some special friends. Indeed, it is even possible—as you did with the lioness—to make a friend of an enemy."
And with that Gemma's fairy godmother disappeared again.
Gemma walked home, with her neck stretched so high that those little horns at the top of her head (which were just big enough for a monkey to grab hold of) may have even been scratching the bottom of the clouds. Gemma felt proud to be herself.
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