"The circus isn't in town and we don't have a zoo," I replied.
Facing challenges in life requires creativity, sometimes a good sense of humor. If you take life all too seriously, some days you'd want to stay in bed, under the covers and in the safety of a darkened room.
Fred was not one to hide. He had faced some difficult times before and "stared down the barrel of the gun" that could have taken his life without notice. That gun, that day, came out of nowhere when he suffered a heart attack and survived.
"I just haven't been taking care of myself," he said. "I've been living life on the edge and suddenly I found myself falling off."
"But what does an elephant have to do with it?" I asked him.
"Well, that phrase came from the 'gold rush' days. Seeing an elephant, like finding gold, was a rare sight indeed. Prospectors hoping to find the mother lode, often returned empty handed saying they 'didn't even see the tail of the elephant,'" he said.
"Around that time, P. T. Barnum started his circus. He was a great showman and always saved the best for last," Fred said. "The audience would have to sit through the entire show just to see the elephant. When the circus arrived in town, everyone was 'going to see the elephant.'"
"So the elephant for you is..." I started to ask.
"Death!" he said matter-of-factly.
"They told you you're going to die?" I asked.
"Then change!" I said.
"That would take some doing. I'm not sure I have what it takes to make major changes in my life any more," he said.
"But you have what it takes to give up?" I asked.
He stood there quietly.
"Fred, 'Going to see the elephant,' as you put it, can also mean you're in search of gold--that rare element within the earth that made fortunes for some and fools out of others. The element you are searching for and need to find desperately is faith, belief in yourself and in the power to overcome this challenge. It is more valuable than gold because it means the difference between life and death for you."
"You're right, I know," he said.
"I know you well, my friend. You have enjoyed life to the fullest. You have paid the price of admission to 'the greatest show on earth,' laughing at the clowns of adversity, applauding the death-defying high wire acts that helped you appreciate life more--and now you want to leave before the elephant performs?" I said.
We both sat watching people pass by. The clouds drifted slowly across the horizon as the sunlight burst into a million shades of pink and orange.
We said our good-byes and I remembered him in my prayers that evening.
The next day Fred came knocking at my door. I opened it to find him standing there with a homemade button pinned on his jacket. It read, "I'm going to see the elephant!"
I believe he will.