A Memory of Elephants


Sunday, my 14 year-old son and I went to the Melbourne Zoo to see the baby Elephant born last month. We made a day of it, riding too the zoo on the train and having lunch at Central Station on the way home. We had no idea the amazing scene we were going to witness or the lessons we would learn.

After an hour on the train and a walk through the zoo, we arrived at “The Trail of the Elephants” where we found the baby, his mother and the rest of the herd in the last elephant enclosure.

The baby and two other small elephants were in the middle of the enclosure near an empty concrete wading pool. Three large elephants milled around in the shade near the wall of the large enclosure - quite some distance from the baby who was curiously exploring the area around the dry pool.

As we watched the little guy exploring his terrain, we were in for a surprise. The pool area was fenced with a solitary piece of string tied to tall metal stakes. Normally there is an electrified wire to keep the adult elephants out of the empty pool area. Because of the presence of the little elephant, the electric wire had been replaced with string. The elephants, of course, did not know this.

The baby clumsily climbed up the concrete area bordering the pool and wobbled toward the string. As he got closer to the empty pool his head bumped the string. The baby let out a panicked squeal. He lurched, trying to get away from the string, but ended up rushing underneath it into the roped off area. He clearly knew this was a bad thing. He roared his distress - repeatly calling for help. I was amazed how low his voice was. The lions in the "ROAR" exhibit would have been proud to have this little guy's resonance and depth! 

The other elephants reacted instantly, rushing to the string. It was clear which elephant was the baby’s mother as she waved her trunk under the string and scuffed her feet in the dust. Every other elephant in the enclosure gathered around the mother, clearly wanting to help.

One of the elephant handlers appeared at a gate and hurried into the enclosure. The baby was continuing to call and the adults to answer. The man navigated around the herd of concerned adults cautiously but quickly and reached the empty pool. The handler called the baby elephant and lifted the string up. The baby crossed underneath, rushing to his mother.

Then the rest of the herd did something amazing, they formed a protective huddle around the mother and baby. As one massive group, they quickly shuffled away from the pool area. Once they reached a safe distance, they scuffed their feet and blew their trunks into the dirt creating a dust cloud. The baby disappeared in the protective huddle. In the wild, this would serve as very effective protection and an intimidating display to any would-be-baby-killer!

The elephants stayed huddled around the little baby while the handlers opened a huge gate at the far end of the enclosure. Once the herd could see an exit from this stressful (and dangerous!) environment, one elephant lead the way and the others followed. The entire heard left the scary enclosure behind and journeyed to greener pastures.

What if our church community was as caring as an elephant herd? What if every one of us responded to the stress the world brings our young? What if we gathered around struggling and stressed parents to provide strength in numbers? What if our pastors had stress-reducing strategies ready whenever we feel in danger? What if our church was the safe environment where at risk youth were shepherded?

What if nurture came as naturally to us as it does to elephants? It can! We just need three things: Big ears, quick feet and small groups. We need to be listening carefully - the cries will rarely be as loud as an elephant! We need to react to what we hear, running to support those who are suffering, struggling or stranded. And we need to gather together regularly in groups small enough that we each know, love and care for each other.

Seven years ago, our family left Tasmania. During the two years we lived there my wife was part of a small group that met weekly. Yesterday, a card and a gift arrived from the small group. They had heard that my wife was going through a tough time as she dealt with both her father and myself each having a tumor. Her small group heard, ran to the need and huddled together, signing the card and wrapping the gift. Even after seven years, a small group never forgets.

There are many more stories like this one, of people caring for their friends and family because they listen, gather and care. When we spend time together regularly, nurture comes naturally. You know this already, if you have a small group that you call home. If you don’t, perhaps it’s time to start one!

Your Sabbath School class, or your kid’s Sabbath School class, is a great place to start. Think through the families you know and enjoy. Invite two or three families over for a meal (or to the park or a restaurant) and see how the first “meeting” goes. If you gel well as a group, ask the other adults if they’d like to “do this again sometime”. You’ll be surprised. People are looking for community. Your small group is only a meal away!

It is impossible to quantify the gift you are giving the children in your family or church family by being part of a small group. Their cries will be heard. Their needs for community will be met. You will have a group of people ready to care when a young one encounters his first string barrier or a not-so-young one has a life crisis that takes them beyond their depth. It may seem small to you but rushing to their aid, or just gathering around them, could make all the difference.

Did you know that a group of elephants is called a memory of elephants? Yes, they can also be called a herd or a parade. Both of those make sense, but why a memory? We’ve been told an elephant never forgets. Perhaps this is why a group of elephants is called a memory. Or, perhaps it is because a small group of people is a lot like a memory of elephants - it never forgets it’s own. 



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For more parenting pondering,
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Zoo Trip

 Today, my 14 year-old son Cyrus and I went to the Melbourne Zoo. We went to see the new Elephant (still unnamed) who was born last month. We had no idea the amazing scene we were going to witness when we got to our goal.

We made a day of it, riding in on the train and having lunch at Central station on the way home. Cyrus and I share a love for animals and he is a budding photographer. Today he took pics on his new camera. He did a great job!

Our family was given season passes to Melbourne's three zoos for Christmas from Grandpa Paul and Grandma Janet. It has turned out to be a fantastic gift and we have already used them numerous times. 

"Mali" - Two year old
It was a hot day and therefore, even though it was Sunday, the Zoo was not crowded. We came in the back entrance from the train station and made our way slowly through the Zoo toward the elephant enclosure. Our journey was rewarded by an arrival time at the Elephants that (by chance) coincided with the viewing time for the new baby. He was out, with his mother and the rest of the herd, in one of the enclosures.



The new baby - yet to be named!

As we watched the little guy exploring his terrain, we were in for a surprise. The string you see in front of him is normally an electrified rope to keep the adult elephants out of the empty pool area. Because of the presence of the little elephant, the electric wire had been replaced with string. The elephants, of course, did not know this. The baby climbed up on the concrete area bordering the pool and then his head touched the string. The baby let out a panicked squeal. I was amazed how low his voice was. The lions in the "ROAR" exhibit would have been proud to have this little guy's resonance and depth! 

Panic!



One of the elephant handlers appeared at a gate and hurried into the enclosure. He navigated around the herd of concerned adults cautiously but quickly and reached the empty pool. The baby was continuing to call and the adults to answer. The handler called the baby elephant and lifted the string up high so the baby could cross underneath. The baby and mother rushed to each other.


Protective dust cloud


The rest of the herd did something amazing, they formed a protective huddle around the mother and baby. Then they scuffed their feet and blew their trunks into the dirt creating a dust cloud. The baby disappeared in the protective huddle. In the wild, this would serve as a very effective protection and an intimidating display to any would-be-baby-killer!





Escape to another enclosure

The elephants stayed huddled around the little baby while the handlers opened a huge gate. Once the herd could see an exit from this stressful (and dangerous!) environment, one elephant lead the way and the others followed. The entire heard left the scary enclosure behind and journeyed to greener pastures.




There are so many lessons in parenting, family and pastoring in that short encounter. I'll leave you to ponder... It was beautiful!



We continued our exploration of the Zoo and saw many more animals than the ones pictured. It was a great day with a fantastic story at the apex!








Good job with the photos, Cyrus!

The Heart of the Waiting Game

The past few days have been tough for me. Physically, I’m doing fine. The emotions, on the other hand, are playing by their own rules. They listen to no one - especially reason. 

I am healing as quickly as expected. Quicker, say the doctors. I know this. And yet, I keep getting frustrated because I want things to speed up. I’m supposed to take it easy. And I am. But every once in a while my foot slips off the brake and hits the accelerator. And I like it! Then, just like on the roads, when I exceed the recommended speed, I pay for it.

The first week at home (the week after the surgery), my dad took me to Badger’s Creek to relax and watch birds. We had a great time. 30 minutes driving to get there. 2 hours sitting on lawn chairs. 30 minutes driving home. It was great fun! The next day, however, I was absolutely wasted. I had exerted too much energy.


Last week (four weeks after the surgery) I rode the bus to Healesville Sanctuary. While there, I took it easy. I walked slowly, looking at animals and taking photos, for 45 minutes. Then I sat at a picnic table and read for an hour. I walked again for 30 minutes or so before resting for 30 minutes while having lunch in the cafe. Finally I rode the bus home. I wanted to ride the bus to test how it felt. I had a great day and everything went great. The next day, amazingly, I was fine. 




Feeling so supreme after my day of bus/walk and the day following of peaceful rest, I decided to try something else I hadn’t done yet. That night (last Friday) I slept with only one pillow. Since the surgery I have been propped up while sleeping. In hospital, I had a bed that sat up. The first two weeks at home I slept on the couch in a half-seated position. I tried bed, but it was too uncomfortable until week three. For the past couple of weeks I have propped myself up in bed on two massive pillows and two standard pillows. This gives me enough height that my head is above my heart and I don’t get thumping headaches. 


Friday night, laying flat with one pillow, I slept like a log. My body had been aching for a relaxed sleep for over a month. But the next morning, wow my head was not happy. It wasn’t pain so much as a hazzy/foggy/groggy sensation. It was like being inside of a see-through box. I could see everything but it was hard to navigate through if I tried to move. I could hear everything but it sounded muffled and distant. Understanding people was the hardest thing. And, being Saturday, I went to church. The sound system at church was intriguingly annoying. The voice of the person in the middle of the stage was coming from somewhere else. Having one ear deaf and the other filled with a drawer full of socks, I was very uncomfortable. 

I left and went to the Junior Sabbath School room where I helped my wife teach the lesson to the kids. It was better to be in a small setting.  It was nice to sit in a circle where I could see everyone’s faces. It was comforting to have the voices come from the people they belonged to rather than from a box overhead (or a wall over there). 

We didn’t stay for church. My head was not feeling well at all. The horizontal night, while it had felt great to the muscles in my body, had not been good for my brain. That night I slept propped up again. Sunday was a little better. I told Jenny it felt like I’d gone backward in my healing process by a week or more. 

It had all been a test. Every five years, all the ministers from Australia gather together for a week of fellowship and worship. It starts tonight, at Avondale College. I have been looking forward to it for months. I had arranged a room and a ride to get there. I told myself, early last week, that I would allow myself to go to the ministers meetings if I had one good day out during the week and a comfortable day at church. The day out would test my ability to walk around campus. The day at church would test my ability to participate in the lectures. 

Friday I was bouncing for joy. I was going! The first test had gone better than I could have imagined. I was good to go! Then Saturday happened. I was in a foggy box all day, and part of the next.

To say I was frustrated would be a dramatic understatement. I was angry. I wanted to be as well as I had believed I was on Friday. I had been so active on Thursday and perfectly fit on Friday. I thought I was getting back to normal. But I wasn’t.

Sunday afternoon I told my ride I would not be going. That was extremely hard to say. I wanted to pretend everything was fine. But, I knew it would be unwise to go. The 10 hours in the car would be uncomfortable. The sound system at Avondale would be disorienting. The schedule and setting would be new and potentially overwhelming. I know this. And I know I made the right decision to stay home, but I’m frustrated.

It is a dramatic shift from being self-sufficient and independent to being reliant on others for just about everything. Accepting help doesn’t bother me but knowing I can’t do it on my own is taking a tectonic mental shift. The quakes are unsettling - aftershocks come in many forms. I still try to convince myself that I’m fine and capable of doing anything, if really needed. I know where the car keys are - if I really needed them. Then I get in the car with someone else driving and am dumb-founded at how disoriented I am by the movement of the vehicle, and dismayed at the rapid start/stop/merging ebb and flow of traffic. While in a vehicle, I can’t imagine being in control of it. This is disheartening. I love driving. I love freedom. I can’t drive. I feel trapped. 

I went to my GP today. She is an awesome doctor. I feel very assured because she is honest with me. She doesn’t hide behind niceties. Today I asked what signs she would be looking for to assure her I was ready to drive. She stared at me like I had sworn at her. She shook her head. “You are not driving,” she said. I explained that I understood that but just wanted to know what things needed to happen. 

She softened and explained in detail the mental and emotional process I was going through and would continue to go through for the months ahead. She finished by saying, “In brain surgery cases, the final checkup is between 18 months and 2 years after the surgery. You will progress from now until then. Life will go back to normal during that time. Rushing your healing is the worst thing you can do. You will drive again. You will go back to full-time work. But I can not foresee those things right now. Now you need to rest. Do what you are comfortable doing. Don’t push yourself beyond today’s capabilities or you will slow tomorrow’s healing.” 

So, for those of you wondering where Dave is... I’m here. I’m at home. I’m on the couch. I’m in the spa. I’m walking slowly through the shops. I’m having a coffee with my wife. I’m writing a blog because writing feels great. I’m reading books. I’m playing games and watching TV with my kids. I’m sitting in a lawn chair in the backyard watching the cat stalk the visitors to the bird-feeder. I might be at church. I might ride the train into work for a few minutes or hours. I might be on the bus, if you look in through the window. I won’t be the driver in the car next to you at the stoplight. I won’t be the guy running from one end of the stage to the other bringing a story to life. But I will be planning stories to tell and road-trips to take in the future. For now, I am resting. I am healing. I am patient. 

And I will be happy while I wait. That’s the heart of the matter - my emotional response is my choice. And I choose joy!

When I was a kid my dad had a sign on his home-office wall. It had ten words on it. He told us these ten little words could and would change your life: 

if it is to be it is up to me

Dave Edgren ~ Story: Teller, Author, Trainer ~

BOOK DAVE NOW! Dave Edgren is passionate about creating a values-based storytelling culture. In his engaging and often hilarious way,...