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What Elephants Can Teach Us About Supporting Members of Our Herd

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I want to talk about elephants.

My love for these wonderful beasts began on a tour of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Actually, it started when I first saw “Dumbo,” particularly the scene when Dumbo is rocked by his mother, who is behind iron bars and chained up by heartless circus folk. To this day the song “Baby Mine” crushes me, and I dare you to honestly say that you aren’t completely gutted after watching.

But I digress…

As a new freshman at Rhodes College I toured St. Jude right before the start of my first semester. The hospital is a remarkable place, packed with thoughtful touches to make it feel less like…well, a hospital. I remember the “Cancer Alphabet” that hung on the walls, framed pieces of paper adorning corridors that in any other medical facility would be spotted with images of healthy-looking people reminding the sickies to wash their hands. But this particular series of artwork was decorated by the young patients, and somehow made you simultaneously aware of the gravity of their experience while chuckling at the overwhelming preciousness. I recall the K was for Kemo (I told you it was cute), and there was an eloquently-written poem all about “up chuck” beneath the scribbled letter.

I also remember that there were elephants everywhere, and at some point on the tour, our guide finally explained why. I’m obviously not able to quote her, but whatever she said went something like this:

Elephants are the symbol of St. Jude because when a baby elephant is in danger the entire herd comes together to protect the calf. That’s what we do here; we stand alongside each patient’s family and friends to help shield a child from the disease as best we can.

Everyone fights together. Whether it’s a predator, natural elements or the overwhelming tiredness that comes from a really long walk, elephants do whatever is necessary to take care of one another. People have even witnessed cases of role reversal when a calf has to step up to care for its mother. (If you have a few extra minutes they’d be well-spent reading this story about the bond between a mother and her calf, and how that calf saved his mother’s life.)

girl standing next to painting of elephants

So, take from this piece what you will. I’m not going to connect the dots or circle back to how this relates to chronic illness. I have a feeling doing so would be redundant and obvious. I just wanted to share a little extra love with you today, and maybe get you thinking about emulating these animals when a member of your herd needs an extra hand. And we all need help sometimes, not just those with a chronic illness.

Follow Anne’s journey on [still]moving.

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Originally published: May 3, 2017
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