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An Elephant Birthday by fdjerue7eeu


									An Elephant Birthday
By Linda Tiessen Wiebe

THERE IS AN elephant at my 43rd birthday party. Her wise eyes gaze at my
friends and I laughing and eating cake. We are talking about her….


Several years ago I read Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone. [link to review on
Book Café] I knew the novel was anchored with meticulous research and
directed at the plight of elephants. But I became enchanted with the character
of Mud, a lame orphaned elephant. It was as if Mud were speaking directly to
me. Research strongly supports the complex social relationships among
elephants. They are very demonstrative with each other, live in hierarchical
herds for life, can remember fellow elephants even when separated by years or
by death, and communicate across vast distances with infrasonic messages.
Gowdy’s story wove these threads of science into the story of one herd, told by
its matriarch, Mud. This story captured my imagination very deeply. But it
wasn’t so clear to me how to respond.

Although we are becoming more aware of the plight of elephants today, there is
something limiting about seeing them only as endangered. Sure I want to help,
but I think that has as much to do with understanding as with action. In some
ways action is much easier than understanding. After all, misunderstood
imagination led us astray in the first place. It wasn’t Mud’s plight that caught
my imagination. It was this exquisite sense of how similar and yet how different
we are. It was like this Other is staring back at me, and finding recognition.
Sometimes when I see the sad eyes of elephants, I feel like they are long-
suffering in waiting for us to recognize what they’ve known all along, that we
are brothers and sisters.

So if I was going to anthropomorphize, I might as well be informed. Slowly I
started to read about elephants; the image of Mud stayed with me. When
Watershed started studying the Wisdom of Creation in the summer of 2003,
something started coming together a bit for me. It was a natural extension from
our Jesus and the Wisdom Tradition course in which we had come to understand
Jesus as the archetypal human. The brilliant brush strokes of evolution and the
Big Bang painted a wonderfully complex mural of the pulse of life in our
universe, and our planet. Seeing the indelible signs of purpose as life moves
towards ever-increasing complexity inevitably made us ask how this relates to
the self-giving love that Jesus’ life and death revealed. These questions started
me asking how the evolution of human consciousness related to other species.
Can we humans imagine coexisting in a sustainable way with other species and
their environment? Compassion has something to teach us about taking a more
whole perspective, and the suffering that involves.

Back to Mud. At the end of the book, she has a vision of Sanctuary, and attempts
to lead her herd there. Sanctuary is where humans come to look but not shoot.
Her vision is vague and poignant because you realize she must trust the very
creatures who have caused such tragedy in her life. A few years after reading
The White Bone, I stumbled on Carol Buckley’s story. As a college student, she
fell in love with a baby elephant owned by a local car salesman. She bought
Tarra and began training and touring with her for circuses and zoos. As they
both matured, Carol began to realize how stultifying performing was for an
adult elephant. She tried finding a suitable sanctuary for Tarra. When she found
that none existed, Carol realized she owed it to Tarra to create one, and The
Elephant Sanctuary was born. Together with Scott Blais and a host of
volunteers, Carol manages 2,700 acres of pasture and forest in Tennessee for
nine retired elephants. Human access is limited, so the elephants don’t ever have
to perform again. But education and interaction is encouraged through a
website [link to website in new window] with daily diaries and webcams, and
through video-conferencing. Look, but don’t shoot.

Meanwhile, my friend Bev was thinking of having her birthday party in support
of Jane Goodall’s work with chimps [link to Bev’s chimp story]. I thought this
was a great idea; what better way to deepen a compassionate response towards
animals than within community. Since we have birthdays in the same month, I
asked and Bev graciously agreed to invite an elephant. In honour of our guests,
we reviewed The Ten Trusts by Jane Goodall and Mark Beckoff, watched some
great elephant and chimp “home movies” and made donations to The Jane
Goodall Institute [link] and The Elephant Sanctuary. For me it was a great way
to honour the image of Mud, and to take a small step towards the vision of
compassionate humanity she was calling out in me. I want to continue to learn
about my fellow creatures and to respond from what I learn in a growing


There is an elephant at my 43rd birthday party. Her wise eyes gaze at my friends
and I laughing and eating cake. We are talking about her…and she knows that
we are slowly finding our way towards the wisdom of animals.

From Watershed Online:

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