A curious fact about elephants is this:
In order to survive, they mustn't fall down.
Every other animal can stumble and get back
up again. But an elephant always stands up,
even to sleep. If one of the herd slips and falls,
it is helpless. It lies on its side, a prisoner of its
own weight. Although the other elephants will
press close around it in distress and try to lift it
up again, there isn't usually much they can do.
With slow heaving breaths, the fallen elephant
dies. The others stand vigil, then slowly move on.
This is what I learned from nature books, but
I wonder if they are right. Isn't there another
reason why elephants can't fall down? Perhaps
they have decided not to. Not to fall down is
their mission. As the wisest and most patient
of the animals, they made a pact.
I imagine it was eons ago, when the ice ages
were ending. Moving in great herds across the
face of the earth, the elephants first spied tiny
men prowling the tall grasses with their flint spears.
"What fear and anger this creature has," the
elephants thought. "But he is going to inherit
the earth. We are wise enough to see that.
Let us set an example for him."
Then the elephants put their grizzled heads together and
pondered. What kind of example could they show to man?
They could show him that their power was much greater
that his, for that was certainly true. They could display
their anger before him, which was terrible enough to
uproot whole forests. Or they could lord it over man
through fear, trampling his fields and crushing his huts.
In moments of great frustration, wild elephants will do all
of these things, but as a group, putting their heads together,
they decided that man would learn best from a kinder
message. "Let us show him our reverence for life," they said.
And from that day on, elephants have been silent, patient,
peaceful creatures. They let men ride them and harness
them like slaves. They permit children to laugh at their
tricks in the circus, exiled from the great African plains
where they once lived as lords. But the elephants' most
important message is in their movement. For they know
that to live is to move. Dawn after dawn, age after age,
the herds march on, one great mass of life that never falls
down, an unstoppable force of peace. Innocent animals,
they do not suspect that after all this time, they will fall
from a bullet by the thousands. They will lie in the dust,
mutilated by our shameless greed.
The great males fall first, so that their tusks can be made
into trinkets. Then the females fall, so that men may have
trophies. The babies run screaming from the smell of their
own mothers' blood, but it does them no good to run
from the guns. Silently, with no one to nurse them, they
will die, too, and all their bones bleach in the sun. In the
midst of so much death, the elephants could just give up.
All they have to do is drop to the ground. That is enough.
They don't need a bullet: Nature has given them the dignity
to lie down and find their rest. But they remember their
ancient pact and their pledge to us, which is sacred.
So the elephants march on, and every tread beats out
words in the dust: "Watch, learn, love. Watch, learn, love.
" Can you hear them? One day in shame, the ghosts of ten
thousand lords of the plains will say, "We do not hate you.
Don't you see at last? We were willing to fall, so that you,
dear small ones, will never fall again."