“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant,
The only harmless great thing.”
– John Donne, The Progress of the Soul
If you look at its parts: four gray, dirty stumps for legs with knees that seem to come out of nowhere, feet that resemble large saucers spotted with nail-like structures that could also be a giant toddler’s lost tooth glued to it, large ears that any elementary school bully would love to flick with his fingers, an alien trunk protruding from its face, threatening tusks and a body, rotund like a concrete mixer capped off with an Eeyore of a tail.
But like many things in life both physical, experiential or spiritual, it’s not the parts that make something beautiful, it’s the whole. Elephants have captured our imagination, joy, tenderness and even melancholy as they stride through the open fields of the Savannah, the busy city streets of India, or, at least until recently, the center ring of a Barnum and Bailey circus. What is it about these creatures? From a god of the Hindus to an imagined deity by Rudyard Kipling, cherished by any Winnie the Pooh aficionado (the Heffalump), or beloved by Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings (I know, Oliphaunts), these creatures hold a mysticism that till this day captures the hearts of children and the wisdom of elders.
Perhaps it’s their stride, the amazing grace that emanates from such bulky creature. Or maybe it’s the sway of their trunk, back and forth, back and forth. Personally, I love the silence they carry. Such large creatures who seem to glide in whispers, displaying a stoic nature, trumpeting their magnificent calls only in times of great distress, need or joy. Not chattering like the birds or the chimps. Still, it might be their love for each other, their need to make sure their family and friends are taken cared of and safe. Or yet again, the old adage that tells us an elephant never forgets.
So it seems to me, that elephants seem like supernatural examples of the qualities we wish to have, what we want to be. We want to be stoic, to hold our families dear to us, to glide gracefully though we seem clumsy, to be silent and strong, to seem wise beyond our years, or to be silly as we spray each other with our trunks, to never, ever forget.
You may be able to pick yourself apart, to see all the strange, mismatched parts. You may feel clumsy and cumbersome. You may feel like your separated from the pack. But you are an elephant. You are strong, graceful, wise and when you are not, those silent, stoic members of your pack will trumpet their glorious fanfare, providing a beacon for you to follow home. And though you may hurt, heal, and move on, you will preserve all of life’s lessons in your memory.
You are an elephant.