Deena Metzger studied elephants.
Elephants have enormous intelligence, an ability to communicate across vast distances, and a complexity of their kinship networks and mourning rituals that is hard to fathom.
Deena Metzger wanted to hold council with the elephants.
“How does one sit in council with elephants?” her husband asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I do not even know how to imagine it.”
But she went to Botswana with a guide. They traveled into the brush. And here’s what happened:
“I begin chanting aloud, an ancient kabbalistic chant which has been my prayer and meditation for two years; now it bursts out of me. I know the elephants can hear it.
Slowly the elephant lifts his head from the grasses and begins walking along the river. He does not stop to graze nor does he look around but walks with clear determination and intention. I want to say the words again because they carry what must be communicated here: focused, deliberate, determined, conscious, aware intention.
And he stops directly in front of the truck….
The elephant has raised his trunk and is curving it over itself and under itself and up and over again. That is, he ties his trunk into an impossible knot. I have never even seen photographs of such a movement, of such a mudra.
I am on my knees and I don’t know what my husband is doing because I am completely taken by the elephant. Actually, my husband tells me later that he was sitting cross-legged and slightly behind me for the entire time. My hands are open on the edge of the truck so that the elephant knows that I am empty-handed and that I have no weapons.
Then the elephant bows his head. There is no other way of describing it. He bows his head and unfurls his trunk.
In my mind, I am speaking to him. And this is approximately what I say:
‘I know who you are and what kind of beings your people are. I have some sense of the extent and depth of your intelligence and development. And I know that you are a holocausted people. I know something of what this means because I also come from a holocausted people and I have studied other holocausts on the planet in this century.
I apologize to you for my species and that we are doing this to you. I cannot tell you the extent of my shame and grief. If there is any way for you to imprint me with your wisdom so that we can form an alliance, so that we can, together, accomplish something on behalf of the earth, I am here and I am not afraid.’
Then, I silence my mind. I have said enough. Humans have said enough. I want to be empty and to listen. The elephant moves toward me with the same grace and determination as he moved down the river. It does not take a long time for him to cross the road. He is less than a trunk’s distance from me. Four feet perhaps. He can, if he wishes, wrap his trunk about me without moving closer. Later the driver of the car will tell me that his hand moved twice to start the car but each time he stopped. He decided even if it came to it to allow me my chosen death.
The elephant stops at this distance and looks me in the eye. We stay this way a long time. Ten minutes perhaps. At least then minutes. He is a great bull. He is one of the old ones.
Then he turns and moves to the back of the truck and faces it. I turn to him and put my hands out again. We look at each other eye to eye. There is a meditation practice called trespasso where people look into each other’s eyes. The task is to be as naked as possible, to allow oneself to be seen as well as to try to see the other. We are doing trespasso.
Another ten minutes or so pass.
I hear words in my mind and I let them be spoken silently. ‘I promise you’ is what I hear myself say.
And he turns and goes behind the truck as if to disappear up the hill into the brush, but turns again and faces the truck and so I turn also and on my knees again acknowledge him. I place my hands together before my heart, the way one does to bow and honor a holy person. It occurs to me that I am in the presence of God.
Another ten minutes pass. You cannot imagine the silence that has descended. The elephant departs, climbing slowly up the hill, and disappears into the trees. We all leap out of the car and throw ourselves on the ground in full prostration.
But now we cannot believe our eyes. Elephants are coming down the hill and crossing the road to the river. At first only a few females and their babies, but now more of them are coming. Waves of elephants. Waves upon waves. Augustine stops the car and we jump out and kneel again. I can hear Amanda sobbing behind me. Even now as I write these words, I am crying.
The elephants continue to come. We watch for about ten minutes. There are dozens of them lined up alongside the river and still more are coming. Bulls and cows, old ones and young ones, babies and adolescents. It is like — I do not know –I think — it is like the world ended and then it was saved and the animals are coming forth into the new dawn. That is what it is like. There are no other words for it.
Now we have no choice but to get back into the car again. Someone suggests that we find another road back so that we won’t have to cross between the elephants descending the hill and those on the river; we do not want to come between a mother and her calf. But I know that we must go along the road. They know we are here. We must show up for whatever it is they are calling us to do. And so the driver goes very slowly and very carefully along the river. The elephants are lined up for at least a quarter of a mile, as if for a parade. We are passing by them. They are bowing their heads and flapping their ears at us. And we are bowing and waving and saying, ‘Thank you. And bless you. And thank you. And bless you.’”
Story by Deena Metzger
Thanks to Yeah Dave for sharing it with us.