Monday, June 25, 2007

Lessons On Submission, Love & Elephants

So, I just finished the book, Helen of Troy, which was very good by the way. It gives the detailed life story of Helen of Troy, or Helen of Sparta, as she was originally called. It covered her life prior to meeting the Trojan prince, Paris, and her reign as a fearless, independent princess and eventually as Queen of Sparta. It also spoke of, in relative detail, the Trojan War, and Helen's role in it. Most of all, however, it addressed the choices people make between romance and companionship - passion verses friendship. This book made the assertion that there can only be one or the other, a thought I'm not sure I agree with.

This book, and the one I finished just before it, Water For Elephants, sparked a conversation with a friend, recently, about love, passion, friendship, settling and elephant taming. Yes, elephant taming.

In the book Water For Elephants, the main character is veterinarian who runs away to join the circus. For a man trained in dealing with animals, he doesn't seem to know much about how to tame an elephant. The plot line deals with his conflicting emotions at seeing the ringmaster physically abuse the show's star elephant, as well as domestically abuse his lovely, young wife, whom the vet is in love with.

But what the veterinarian doesn't seem to realize is, that though beating one's wife is a cruel and unsuccessful way at earning her loyalty, for elephants, it's just the trick. See, in order to tame an elephant it's will must be broken first. The elephant, wild when caught, is tied to a special wooden frame or between two tree trunks where it is unable to move. Tied thus, it will began to tear at it's ropes and flail with it's trunk, while it is introduced to it's new master. In order to break it in, the young elephant is repeatedly stuck with an elephant hook and beaten. At the same time, the master talks to him it in a calming voice and strokes it gently. Stroking is important (heehee, understatement of the year), not only because elephants are contact animals, but because this is how the elephant will learn to let itself itself be touched from head to foot.

Fear, pain, thirst and hunger finally make the elephant give up all resistance. When the elephant begins to accept its fate, and it's will is broken, the master allows it to take a bath in a river and to eat, although it will be tied to another working elephant during that time.

After a few weeks of this treatment, the elephant will be tame enough to be led around, still shackled, by several workers, but no longer accompanied by other working elephants. This experience teaches the elephant, first respect for its keeper, and secures it's loyalty throughout it's lifetime. And we all know that elephants are one of the most loyal animals created. Even more so than dogs.

So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Well, as I was explaining this process to my friend, a dear respected older woman, really like a mom to me, she then mentioned to me that she had heard that only Asian Elephants have ever been held in captivity and trained, that there were no recording instances of African Elephants ever have being caught or tamed.

This immediately intrigued me. After all, I had seen a lot of similarities between my own will, stubborn and thick as elephant skin, and the elephants will. To hear that, there was an elephant who yet refused to be tamed, made me laugh. After all, maybe I was like the African Elephant - No man shall ever capture or tame me!

Or could he? Because as I did some research, I realized that what she had mentioned about the African Elephants wasn't true. While it was true, that nowadays, "domesticated" elephants are usually of the Asian breed, it wasn't true that no African elephants had ever been tamed. As a matter of fact, Hannibal's elephants were African, and African elephants had been used in the Belgian Congo, all proving African elephants can be tamed.

The differences in the two breeds, and the propensity for the taming of Asians verses Africans, has nothing to do with the actual elephants, as much as man's view of their use in society and culture.

Asian cultures highly esteemed elephants, even creating an elephant-headed god, which first appeared in Buddhism, then in Hinduism, and eventually rose to Tantric proportions in China. In contrast, in Africa elephants are not revered or worshipped. I even read that attitudes towards the usefulness of elephants had a lot to do with the fact that in Asia elephants were more useful to locals alive than dead. Whereas in Africa, they were considered more useful to the locals dead than alive. In Asia, live elephants have been used over the centuries in armies, for transportation and in industries like logging and construction, whereas in Africa the taming culture died out and poaching for ivory became the sole use for these mammoth beasts.

Ok, all this randomness aside - really, what does this have to do with anything? Well, I guess the more I've been learning about elephants, and exploring the myth of the African Elephant and it's wild, untameable nature, and as I was reading about Helen of Troy and her unquenchable, independent spirit, and the way it was broken and subdued by her passion for Paris, I've been thinking a lot about what it would take to really tame me. Secure me. Get me to submit and settle into a less independent way of living and relating. Not just romantically, but in general.

And like the mystery surrounding the African Elephant, I think that all the lore is quite untrue. Though it won't take shackling, beating, stroking (ok, so maybe some stroking), torture, starvation and eventually bathing while tied to a working elephant to get me to submit, sometimes, it seems pretty darn close.

Why is it, that though I know it is easier and far better to just submit to the Lord, I constantly struggle and buck up against Him, on hind feet as it were? Why do I fight a master I cannot win, when all I really do long for is to give Him my unswerving loyalty? Moreover, if He ever were to see fit to bring a mate into my life, would I really be able to submit to opening up my independent lifestyle, on a daily basis, and forsake the solitude and quiet that I love so much, to enjoy letting someone else in? Or will it take beatings with an elephant hook and the pain and tears that I can only imagine sometimes?

One sunny day last week, I took off for a walk. Really, I drove, to take a walk, nonsensical, yes, it's true. But I drove to Lake Calhoun, and then from there, walked around the lake, and then into Uptown, where I did some shopping, and took A-L-L day long to just be by myself. I love it. Nothing makes me happier sometimes. Seriously.

I remember thinking to myself, just as I was approaching the Lake & Hennepin intersection, "Man, if I had a husband, he'd want to know exactly where I was right now." And when I was coming home. And what I was doing. And how much money I was spending. And what I was buying. And what my plans were for the rest of the day. And so on. And so on. And so on.

Now, I can hear all my married friends say that, when you meet the right person, you want to share those things, and don't mind submitting, and blah blah blah. But then I can also hear my grandma remind me that the older you get, the more set in your ways you become, and the harder it is to change. So which is it? Will I really give up so easily? Or will I need to be broken in, like an elephant, to a way of living that is totally foreign to me. Truly domesticated.

Most importantly, however, how long will the Lord have to keep me tied up in between wood posts like this? I need to learn the joy of submitting to Him, to allowing someone far wiser, more skilled and better equipped, basically run my life. Yes, I have choices, but in the end, if I'm gonna do this, I want to do it 200%, and truly submit to Him, hook, line and sinker. And that's going to take a lot of giving up and giving in of independent, untamed ways of of thinking and living.

Yet, unlike Helen, who had to choose, one or the other, her independent reign as Queen of Sparta, rifed with the mere companionship of King Menelaus, versus near captivity and derision from the Trojan court in her life with Prince Paris, I do believe that I am in a winning situation. I trust that my God has a great enough plan, bigger than a herd of elephants, for my life, that will be joy filled, even if not always as independent and self reliant as I'd like. And I take comfort in this fact: If the African Elephant can do it, submit and be tamed, then apparently, so can I.

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