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, gathering 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.