How to be an elephant in a small town

This morning I watched the little video (which I’ve included at the end of this post) that went viral in May of this year as it captured the herd of elephants crossing the road in Kruger National Park. In the video, a young elephant lies down right there, right in the middle of the road and won’t get up. Some say the elephant collapsed, but most people think that’s not the case. Is he being reckless or is he exhausted? Maybe he’s just given up, it’s not clear. People have been making up lots of stories about what happened – he ate something poisonous; he’s having a tantrum; he’s dying and knows he’s a burden to the herd – but the truth is we just don’t know. Whatever’s going on for that little guy, the one thing the elephants agree about is that he’s not safe and he needs their help.

But the reason we watch this video is not really about the young elephant. We watch it because we are fascinated by the response of the herd to this little one. We can hardly believe our eyes when they start arriving, the whole community of elephants, helping out, stopping traffic, Elephant Herdgathering round, pushing and pulling with their trunks, trying to get this kid to safety. Perhaps it fascinates us because we’ve been there before. Certainly, I’ve been that elephant on the road, down for the count, not sure I’d ever get up again. I’d say every one of us has either been there ourselves or has had someone close to us in that place. Some of us have been lucky with families and friends arriving just to be there, just to stand next to us in the middle of it all. And some of us live in small towns, which can be both a blessing and curse when the going gets tough.

I don’t think there was a lot of whispering from the bush about this young elephant on the road. I don’t think there was a lot of calling into question his character, his choices, his upbringing. No, I don’t think elephants are that way inclined. I think elephants just come because it’s what they do. It’s their instinct to do the right thing. They stop traffic, call in the herd, talk it out, coax, whisper. It’s not safe, you need to get up, you’ll be okay.

What we don’t see in this little clip is the rest of the herd, just off camera. We don’t see the community of elephants gathered nearby but I can tell you, they’re not far away, watching to see what happens, ready to charge the first vehicle that creeps forward. I’ve been in such a situation in Zimbabwe a few times with elephant herds crossing roads. Any decent guide will tell you, you don’t rush a herd – you keep your distance and stay well out of the way. An elephant can charge and flip a vehicle in seconds if they feel unsafe. Don’t think for a moment the whole herd isn’t paying close attention off camera. That’s what elephants do – they protect each other.

This week the son of a good friend of mine found himself in a bit of trouble – well, a lot of trouble, in fact. And because my friend has had a public profile for many years, the media frenzy around the circumstances surrounding her boy is just as expected: shrewd, scheming, opportunistic and unfair. One of the things I admire about this woman, and her family, is their ability to soldier on and hold their heads up high in the midst of some pretty difficult times. We live in a small town. The people who are there for you are close by if you need them. But there are also people with hearts that are a few sizes too small with whom we share this small town. These are the people who whisper about you in the cafe and pretend they don’t see you in the grocery store; people who forget what it means to be a mother with a son in a tough place.

I intend to be an elephant in my small town. I intend to stand off camera, watching from a distance just in case, always believing, always hoping, never judging, and not just because this woman is my friend, but because I’m a mother, too.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:7

Heather Gordon Young is the author of Fireflies:Finding Light in a Dark World. View the book trailer here.

14 thoughts on “How to be an elephant in a small town

  1. christine crossley

    moved to tears as well, there is so much to learn from our animal kingdom…. thank you for this post !!

  2. Bear Hamilton

    She is a wonderful person and I’m sad that she must deal with this but I hope she stands by her son regardless of what he has done. Sadly people do thing without considering the consequences and how it will affect others. Words come to mind ” Ye who have not sinned cast the first stone “. I have been in his boots and trust me when I say once your caught the reality sets in to the fact what you have done is serious business, fun and games are over. And that is all it was, fun and games for a thoughtless selfish person.

  3. Liz Webber

    This story is as wise & loving as a story could be. To that amazing Mother in your community… I send care & support. It is beholden on each one of us to “stand just off camera” and pay attention, not to what the camera sees, but to what is really going on… only then can one participate in a way that furthers… a way that heals & a way that grows.

  4. Anonymous

    As I had mentioned iin a comment earlier Judi II have truly some idea what you are going through and looking back wonder how our family came through it all but we surely did – we put it on the shoulders of the son of our God – you are a strong person and please depend on the faith of the one who knows what your family is going through. In Christian love.

  5. Virginia Sigsworth

    What an inspiring message … good on you for posting this & may we each do some self examination …it’s encouraging to see that there are some really considerate caring people out there …God bless us everyone! … & may we learn from each of God’s creatures ….of which too often mankind is the worst …but herein, some of the best comes forth!

  6. Cheryl

    It sometimes takes a article like this to make people realize what this is really all about ! Forgiving , understanding , empathy , are just a few ! Sometimes people make bad decisions and there is consiquences, but let this family deal with this in their own way and privately !!

  7. Jeannie Brown

    Thank you for this article. I really hope people understand that anyone can make a mistake. My heart hurts for this family

  8. Megin Alvarez

    Thank you for this article and the video post. I managed to read the article but at the end when I watched the video – Tears!! I hope our friend’s son gets up just like the little elephant.

  9. yvonne perry

    Heather,you are so wise for your young age. I just finished reading Fireflies and was so moved. I stayed awake last night thinking how I have felt much of the feelings you expressed , wondering where oh where do I get help !! Every community has a responsibility to watch for each other but few do. I hope I also am one of those elephants watching in the near to see if anyone needs my help..thanks for sharing these wonderful words of advice.. Your friend in CHRIST Yvonne

  10. Gayle

    To Judy, son and family ~
    Stay strong and bring all your love that has grown over the years to the forefront. You will need it more than you ever have before. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to stumble and fall and question as a mom the how’s and why’s…there may not be answers…but still ask the questions that will pull at your heart and your mind. The road is long to conclusion…and the patience that is required is unbearably difficult sometimes. Surround yourself with those that see and know the good of all of you…not those that judge simply from the actions of recent past. Unfortunately this will stay with all of you forever, but it will not diminish your love, your accomplishments or your persons, IF you don’t let it. It WILL make your stronger that you have ever felt before.
    Let the “herd” help…
    from a mom who has been there, is still there, and loves her son very much, wonders how and why still, but each tomorrow is a new day and I am proud to see how he has handled himself and taken the responsibility for his actions and his family….

  11. CC

    This is really moving and beautifully written Heather. Thank you so much for sharing. It doesn’t matter where ones lives, there are some incredibly beautiful reasons for living in a smaller community. Unfortunately with humans, sometimes it come with draw backs. One hopes the beautiful reasons outweigh the other. The elephant story truly captures what all creatures should be like – humans included and we’d like to think they are for the most part. If human communities were more like this herd of elephants, helping one another and being supportive of each one when the need arises life would be smooth sailing. Humans can be so kind, so thoughtful and yet so judgmental, cruel and hateful towards one another. Just as the young elephants learn from their peers and adults in their herds we too should be wary of what teachings we are subjecting our babies, toddlers and young minds to when handling and dealing with life in general and how we view or speak of others when experiencing their joys or hic cups. Reading this made me feel there should be and is, much love and caring where we live. Take strength from that whoever needs it. The sun will rise tomorrow. Know you’re not alone and together can get through this however long it takes. Sent with a Hug Rush to all who need it.

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