They Say that an Elephant Never Forgets

September 22 was National Elephant Appreciation Day.  A day to celebrate the gentle giants whose demeanor seems oh so wise.  Even the young ones seem to possess some great intellect as they slowly plod along in their wrinkled skin and tough, calloused exteriors.  They say that an elephant never forgets.  Scientific American says it’s true… elephants have amazing recall abilities… and it somehow provides them with the impressive ability to survive late into their eighties.  Many researchers also report on an elephant’s remarkable sense of empathy, and their unusual respect for fallen members of their herd. Elephant families are matriarchal in nature and elder females are known to support younger mothers; often mentoring them in parenting skills or participating in funeral rituals for young calves that have died.  Many scientists speak of elephant graveyards and the animal’s peculiar behaviour surrounding the death of aged loved ones.Elephantneverforgets

They say that an elephant never forgets.  Sometimes we forget.  We giggle at “senior moments” and “getting old and forgetful”… but for over half a million people living with dementia in Canada, memory is no laughing matter.  As of 2016, the combined health-care system and out-of-pocket caregiver costs are estimated at $10.4 billion per year. By 2031, this figure is expected to increase by 60 per cent, to $16.6 billion (via Alzheimer Society of Canada).  In 2013, Bob Barker, famous Price is Right host and elephant advocate, provided $1 million of his own earnings to transfer three of the Toronto Zoo’s elderly elephants to a sanctuary in California.  I remember the controversy and outrage.  He felt they needed to live out their remaining senior years in freedom.  And so I muse:  The comparison between senior elephant and senior human healthcare somehow seems unbalanced.

For many of us in this so-called “sandwich generation“, we are torn between providing for our young children, and caring for our aging parents.  I have so many mixed emotions about this topic… I know the system is wrong.  Yet, I am just as guilty at neglecting seniors as the next.  I grow impatient in the check out line as elderly patrons struggle to push the buttons on the debit machine.  I get annoyed when that slow driver at the stop sign has taken way too long to decide to turn.  I’m a little sickened when the little old lady on the subway smells slightly of used towels and moth balls… or worse.  I don’t have time to explain how to do this seemingly easy task, yet again.  I dread the conversations where I have to pretend that I haven’t heard that same story a hundred times.  Still, I am saddened by the fact that so many seniors spend their days lonely and alone.  I am angry with myself that I don’t take time to listen and be patient.  I am disheartened when a person who once had so much dignity and grace,  has lost the ability to care for themselves.

My dear mother-in-law would have celebrated her birthday last week.  We lost her earlier this year when she was taken home to Heaven.  Yet, to some extent, we lost her  many years before that, as her dementia claimed not only her mind, but eventually her body.  They say that an elephant never forgets.  Grandma sometimes forgot.  She forgot where she put her purse.  She forgot to turn off the water in the sink.  She forgot the words.  She never forgot her beloved, though… her husband and full time caregiver who so desperately misses her that it makes my heart ache.

We know we are to honour our parents and care for the widowed, the poor, and our neighbours (Matthew 19, Leviticus 19:32).  Many of you are devoted caregivers and serve others so faithfully!  I applaud you.  It is a very special person, gifted by God, who can serve our senior population with patience, love and honour.  Don’t ever stop using that gift! elderly Personally, I struggle with it.  I used to say that I “didn’t do people”.  And I certainly didn’t do “old” people!  The animals I worked with somehow seemed less threatening than humans.  However, I soon learned that every animal came with “a people”.  I’ve had to learn that helping creatures also meant helping the people that came along with them.  Why do you think so many nursing homes have special animal days?  Perhaps our churches could learn a little bit about non-judgmental, unconditional love, and unending patience from those companion animals.  They say that an elephant never forgets.

In preparing for this post (and my apologies if it seems a little everywhere… I read a lot and have lots to muse about in this emotional topic!) I read a touching post from the Global Sanctuary for Elephants blog.  In it, the author states that through watching the elephants, she has learned that “….death is part of life to be honored and even revered as one of the most sacred elements of life. …”  How much more should we, as believers, honour those who have served so faithfully?  Should we not be providing sanctuary to those who have done their work diligently and have run the good race?  Sanctuary.  By definition, it is a place of refuge and safety.  Oh, I pray my home and my church is such a place for the widows and the orphans.  A place to rest.  A place to be comforted.  A place to feel safe.

They say that an elephant never forgets.  They say that elephants have the capacity to recognize themselves and others.  Even years later.  They say that elephants will mourn the bones of lost elephants when they come upon their so-called “elephant graveyards”.  As I grow, and mature and age, will I still recognize myself as a daughter of the King? Prized as one who is sustained by the great I AM, even into my old age and grey hairs? (Isaiah 46).   Will I remember to honour the old, tired bones of the seniors in my community and give them the respect and comfort they, too, deserve as fellow beloveds?

HeSustains

I pray, like the mighty elephant, that I too, will never forget.

 

 

 

Dragons Among Us

DragonsAmongUsWe live in a zoo.  And it is not just the wildebeest kids, either.  Currently, in our tiny, two story bungalow, we have:  two cats, a turtle, about 30 fish that keep multiplying, my pond specimens for work,  three rats (we’re down from eight rescues), corner web-dwelling spiders, and a variety of dust bunnies — all living happily with the six of us.  We also dog sit from time to time.  So, I was a little hesitant when the oldest son wanted a bearded dragon for his birthday.  That is a rather stout lizard, in case you were unaware.  Now, don’t get me wrong… I love my creatures!  I worked for a veterinarian clinic for three decades and have always loved animals.  I was that little girl who rescued the newly hatched classroom ducklings and brought them to live in our bathtub for the weekend.  I had an ant farm in my bedroom drawer.  I studied zoology for four years.  I do pets.  Alas, one more creature in the household meant more work and more time.  Not to mention that this particular child often quickly becomes enamored with an idea and promptly changes it to move on to a different life goal.  Magic tricks, guitar lessons, Lego masterpieces, the giant Ninja Warrior obstacle course… perhaps he’s a little like his mom and dives into projects.  Continuous learning is an amicable trait, right?  So I waited for a bit, hoping he may “grow out of” the idea of another pet.  He did not.

Thus, “Indy” has arrived.  “Indy”, short for “Indiana Jones” , the legendary archaeologist played by Harrison Ford of the great 80’s films… Temple of Doom and all that.  My house was becoming the Temple of Doom according to grandma, auntie and a few cautious friends who are now reluctant to visit.  Normally, I am the one who is all “whohoo” for new pets… and I don’t have a problem with reptiles… I have had lizards and snakes before… but for some reason, this little guy freaks me out a bit.  Maybe I am getting old.  Maybe it is the way it cocks it’s head slightly left and stares at me with it’s beady little eye as though it is trying to figure out what I am.  It seems to be listening to my very thoughts.  No wonder they call them dragons.  Maybe it is because it is still a “juvenile” and small enough to quickly skitter across the floor versus saunter casually like the laid back lizard I envisioned.  My limited knowledge of bearded dragons (“Beardies” as they are affectionately called by enthusiasts), tells me that they are easy to care for, bond well with their owners and “hang out” with you.  They also eat crickets.  Live crickets.  More creatures to keep viable.  *Sigh*  WelcomingIndyIt is pretty though… kinda spiky with a hint of orange throughout it’s grey-flecked, scaly, skin.  It’s belly is surprisingly soft and cuddly.  “Indy” is learning to “hang out” with it’s owner… until it randomly jumps away… adding to my anguish that it will be devoured by a cat.

Assuming it does not get eaten, “Indy” will be with us for the next 10-14 years or so, so I guess I better get used to the sound of crickets and it’s beady little eye-stare.  It’s a slow process, but I am “adjusting”.  The Australian native is kinda cool to watch — snapping up it’s prey in toothless gulps and munching down greens.  Bearded dragons are omnivores… which means they eat both meat and plants.  So at least my leftover salad is getting used.  It’s also pretty neat the way it buries itself to keep cool in the sand under a log after basking in the heat lamp in that weird yoga pose it mastered.  As time passes, Lovingdragons“Indy” and I are establishing an acceptable living relationship.  Have you ever had a relationship with one of those people who you are not quite sure of?  Maybe someone who creeps you out a bit?  Or stares at you with a beady-eye and cocks their head slightly left and you just know they are thinking evil thoughts about you?  Or maybe they really have turned your home into the Temple of Doom, and have hurt you deeply or someone you love.  Life is hard, my friends, and loving our “dragons” is even harder.

I was recently teaching a Sunday school class about the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  The familiar passage is all about relationships.  Hard relationships.  It’s not easy to mend trust and forgive our enemies.  It’s not easy to mourn a lost loved one.  It’s not easy to make peace when you live among those who randomly jump at you when all you want to do is “hang out” and bond.  Verse 45 tells us that “… He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  We all live under the same heat lamp, my friends.  We have to learn to get along.  Do we have to be best friends and share leafy greens?  No.  Dragons are very happy to be left alone sometimes.  We are called to live peaceably and to forgive.  To share our space and make some room on our log so that each of us can bask in the light a little.  To cool off in the sand and “hang out” again when the time comes.  Perhaps I could learn a little from our new pet.  Now if only I didn’t have to feed the accursed crickets!


Want to learn more about keeping Bearded Dragons as pets?  Check out our Pinterest page for lots more references.  We are not experts yet, so encourage you to seek out the professionals on this adventure!