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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

memory, elephants, friendship

shirley and jenny elephantsYou may already have seen the PBS video on Shirley & Jenny, two elephants who never forgot each other. It’s not recent — at least 10 years old. But it was new to me.

Elephants have totemic significance in my family. They were beloved of my mother, and we all indulged her. As a result, there were elephants on every surface you can imagine as I grew up. In now-forbidden ivory, in jade, in porcelain and stone and wood and painted ceramic, embroidered on cloths & pillows… And once, in the parking lot outside the apartment house where we lived, my father a very young calf trucked in to surprise my mother on her birthday.

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but Jenny & Shirley are not my mother’s elephants, engraved/painted/carved/ & cast. Jenny & Shirley were captured in Sumatra — an island in western Indonesia. They met when Jenny was a calf, according to the Elephant Sanctuary, where both elephants eventually were placed. Shirley mothered Jenny, and neither apparently ever forgot their connection.  Their reunion many years later is the stuff of happy endings.

I’ve moved most of my life, although not recently. Over the holidays, moving boxesI happened to mention to my elder son that I used to throw up when I had to pack. I’m pretty sure he thought that was my (usual!) poetic license. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I STILL hate packing. Not traveling; I’m a tourist at heart. But I want firm roots, deeply planted. I envy the childhood friends of my three sisters, each of whom was able to maintain contact w/elementary school friends. My elementary years were spent in a place long ago & far away. Even the name has been changed, to protect the guilty.

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So there are almost no friends left from my childhood, or even my young adulthood (also spent on the move). To be fair, though, I’ve always had my wonderful three sisters, my go-to friends when we moved (10+ times before I was 12, another 6 or so in my teens). I don’t even remember how many times I’ve moved; my father was military, then civil service. And truth be told, we were luckier than most such families: we had back-to-back tours of duty at least once. I had friends who moved annually.

So perhaps the reunion of these two old friends simply hit a resonant note on my emotional keyboard, brought on by memories of my mother and my envy of elephant love. I don’t think it’s only that, though: I know that elephants are ‘people.’ Most animals are: they love, dislike (I’ve never known an animal to hate, only fear), have preferences & quirks & generally think & feel. Like we do. Like I do.

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shirley and jenny elephants2That’s why I think I love Shirley & Jenny. They were ecstatic to see each other, and never left each other’s side, once reunited. I do envy that, from the other side of my unrooted childhood. But I also know what they went through to get to that safe place.

Watch the video, and take a moment to be grateful: your precious human life means you can call any living friend or relative, from whenever, on the phone. FaceBook them. Find them on Twitter. And reunite. And who knows? It may be just as poignant as Shirley finding Jenny.

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