The Story of the Man and the Elephant
The little one was born as the first rays of the sun appeared over distant Kilimanjaro Mountain.
Masai, her mother, was both pleased and exhausted as she watched the other females attending her newborn. Zambezi, her mate, had been enjoying a mudbath when he heard the commotion and lumbered over to see what all the fuss was about. The ladies, seeing the giant bull approach, split ranks to give the proud father his first look at his newborn daughter.
Zambezi gently stroked his sweet daughter as she struggled to her feet, still moist from her birth. Reaching toward Masai, his trunk touched hers. Well done, he seemed to say.
The baby opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was the yellow disk of the sun breaking free from behind the mountain as two giant birds flew over the savanna.
Zambezi and Masai knew that these were two powerful and good omens for their newborn child. Happiness flowed between the two parents.
This baby will be special, they thought. She will be a messenger of peace and understanding.
The new parents decided to call their daughter Lisa.
*******
. . . and on the other side of the earth . . .
Dan sat atop an old catamaran on a beach in the gray morning mist. He thought about people. Why, he wondered, did they fight? Why did they hurt each other? Why did they kill? He was confused and unhappy.
He looked at the ocean. He loved the ocean. He breathed slowly. His heart beat in rhythm with the waves. He felt calmer.
Two great birds rose into the sky to greet the new day. For a moment Dan saw the world through their ancient eyes. How free it must feel to fly through the sky, he thought. Free as a bird.
The rising sun worked its magic over the ocean. The gray mist turned to yellow and pink and gray, with a line of peacock blue just above the horizon. The morning sun broke through the clouds, reflecting thousands of shimmering diamonds on the surface of the ocean. The two birds flew higher and higher.
Dan closed his eyes, but he could still see the images of the shining sun and the two birds flying in the sky. He smiled.
If only everyone on earth would look up, he thought, just for a moment. Then everyone would see the same sun and the same sky. Everyone would see the birds flying. And everyone would feel the same peace he now felt.
This is a powerful message, he thought . . . a message that doesn’t need words. And in his mind he took out a pair of scissors and cut out that rectangle of sky and it became – a Flag.
*******
Lisa’s first years were wonderful. She played and tumbled with little Nairobi, her cousin, in blissful play, watching and trying to imitate the adults as they trumpeted grazed the savanna, and – Lisa’s favorite – wallowed and rolled in the mud.
She especially loved the beautiful long white tusks of her father and mother and the other adults. She wanted to know where hers were and was assured that hers would grow in time, and that she, too, would one day have a wonderful set of tusks of her own. The mere idea of having tusks was so exciting to Lisa that she raised her trunk to trumpet in joy, but instead made a giant wet raspberry sound, which made the entire herd laugh heartily.
But this idyllic life was not to continue.
Life for elephants in the 20th century was anything but blissful. There had been a time, a century ago, when hundreds of thousands of elephants roamed in the wild. Herds so numerous that the dust from their movements would rise to block the sun.
But humans with guns and desires to hang trophies on their walls or carve trinkets from precious ivory tusks or capture elephants to display live in front of awestruck crowds conspired to dwindle the numbers of the herds to near extinction.
Certainly there were thoughtful people, too. People who worked with governments to set aside preserves where elephants could find safe harbor. But poachers still visited a terrible death on the herds, taking the valued tusks. And there was also organized culling of herds which, while carefully and purposefully planned to manage the herds, was no less tragic for the gentle animals.
Zambezi and Masai had witnessed this brutality several times in their long lives and vowed to do all they could to keep Lisa away from this horror.
None-the-less, the terrible moment arrived late one morning. Four giant helicopters rose up over the trees, splitting the peaceful silence of the savanna with a deafening sound, panicking Lisa. Zambezi and Masai tried desperately to shield Lisa and to move her away from the terrifying noise and confusion, but they were soon separated by a giant forest of stampeding legs and feet, Zambezi and Masai trumpeting in desperation to their baby.
Using every one of the dodging and weaving skills she had developed at play, Lisa was able to keep from being trampled by the confused and terrified adults. Her cousin Nairobi, never so quick and agile, tried to escape off to the side, but was knocked to his knees as the herd thundered on. Lisa came upon his lifeless body and her world simply stopped. She nudged him with her trunk, pleading with her playmate to get up. Tears clouded her eyes. She was deaf to the rifle shots that tumbled her family and friends to their deaths. And, finally, when the shooting stopped and the helicopters landed softly nearby, only Lisa still stood, alone, off to the side, covered with dust and splattered with the blood of her slaughtered herd.
Lisa had only once seen a man before and that from a long distance. Her father told her that this was a man who had visited the herd often, watching and making marks on a tablet. Now, suddenly, a dozen men appeared, all with shiny rifles reflecting the sun.
Two men stopped at the body of her Uncle Mozambique, Nairobi’s father. Lisa saw that the side of his body was moving up and down. Then four shots rang out and Uncle Mozambique moved no more.
Until now Lisa had been frozen, standing still as a statue. The gunshots broke the spell. She raised her little trunk to trumpet her sadness and anger and confusion . . . but all that came out was a giant wet raspberry sound. The men roared with laughter and then surrounded the little elephant and led her into a giant truck that had appeared from over the horizon.
Lisa couldn’t know that she was to be the very last elephant ever to be captured from a herd that had been culled, that men had decided that no more elephants were to be taken from the wild and put into captivity.
The men secured her in the truck and Lisa stretched out her trunk, watching, as the truck pulled away. Dust filled the air until the motionless bodies of her family and friends became nothing more than the silhouette of a lifeless mountain range.
Heart-broken, Lisa raised her eyes. The last image she saw of her once-happy home was a sky filled with colors of yellow and pink and peacock blue and gray as two giant birds soared in front of distant Kilamanjaro Mountain.
*******
Dan wanted to share his message of peace and freedom and his Flag with everyone in the world! How, he wondered, could he do that?
He went home and took out a large sheet of paper and drew the sun and the sky and the birds. This is the Flag of Peace and Freedom, he thought.
He cut out pieces of fabric in the colors of the morning sky and the ocean and put them together like a puzzle until they all fit. Then he sewed the pieces together.
When he was done he closed his eyes and held his breath and remembered the way the sky and sun and birds and ocean had looked that morning.
And when he opened his eyes . . . There it was, just as he remembered! The Flag of Peace and Freedom!
He hung the Flag from a pole in front of his home and he said, “One day, the Flag of Peace and Freedom will fly over all the nations of the world!”
*******
The next weeks were a blur of unfamiliar events for Lisa. She was taken to a way station where several men stayed with her to take care of her. They sprayed her with water and made sure she had plenty of good food to eat. They talked to her, gently and quietly. But her sleep was always uneasy and loud noises terrified her.
Every morning she looked up to the sky. Her sadness was overwhelming. She wanted Zambezi and Masai and little Nairobi and Uncle Mozambique. She wanted to be home, grazing the savanna with Kilamanjaro Mountain in the distance. Sometimes birds flew overhead and she would feel a little better for a moment and raise her little trunk to trumpet at them . . . but all that ever came out was a giant wet raspberry sound which always made the men laugh.
One day she grasped a little twig in her trunk and doodled in the dirt. It made her feel calmer. Concentrating, she tried to make marks that reminded her of good times – of the sun shining and white clouds and birds flying and Kilamanjaro Mountain. The men chuckled at her “antics”. “Look, she likes to sketch,” they would say, pointing.
*******
Dan pinned a very small Flag of Peace and Freedom to his jacket and every day he would look at it and remind himself of his promise: One day the Flag of Peace and Freedom would fly over all the nations of the world.
People saw the little Flag on his jacket and asked, “What is this? What does it mean?”
“This is The Flag of Peace and Freedom,” he would tell them. “We all live under the same sun and sky. And we all marvel at the flight of birds.
“No matter where we live or what language we speak, we share this world and the responsibility to keep it alive for future generations.”
People liked his message and his Flag.
So he had little Flag pins made. And when people said, “Can I buy one?" he would say, “Here. Take this, please. This is my gift to you.” And he would ask only that people tell someone else about the Flag of Peace and Freedom. “Help me spread the message,” he would say.
Time went by and he shared the story of the Flag of Peace and Freedom with many people. But he wanted everyone in the world to hear the message.
“If everyone knows,” he thought, “then we could all look at the Flag of Peace and Freedom and realize that we all share the same real sky and the real sun.”
He read that there was a day called the International Day of Peace. The United Nations said this should be September 21st every year.
So he decided to send letters to the leaders of every nation in the world so everyone could hear about the Flag of Peace and Freedom.
“If you will fly the Flag of Peace and Freedom in your nation on the International Day of Peace,” he wrote, “I will send a free Flag to you.”
*******
Lisa left Africa on a giant cargo plane. Her destination was a small traveling circus in the American southwest where she soon made friends with three other elephants. The two older females were nice enough, but she especially liked the big old bull that reminded her of her Uncle Mozambique. The big bull wondered why her eyes always got misty when he spoke to her, but he liked her, too.
Lisa spent part of every day sketching in the dirt with a twig, telling her story, even if the marks she made were understandable only to her.
During her time at the circus, her tusks finally appeared. She felt them before she saw them in her reflection in a little pool of water in her enclosure. Her new tusks filled her with great happiness because she remembered her parents promising her that she would someday have a wonderful set of tusks of her own, but they filled her with great sadness, too, and for the same reason.
Not a day went by without her missing her parents and her happy life in Africa. Every morning she looked up to the sky, waiting for birds to fly overhead. She always raised her little trunk to trumpet at them . . . and all that ever came out was a giant wet raspberry sound which always made everyone who heard it laugh.
Life went on like this until her tenth birthday. And that’s when Lisa met Charlie.
Now, the humans she saw every day at the circus were very nice to her. The talked gently to her, brought her food and water, and kept her clean.
But Charlie . . . Charlie was different. He had a special light in his eyes that Lisa had never seen before in any human. Something about him reminded her of Nairobi. She instinctively liked him. What she didn’t know yet was that Charlie had fallen in love with her and wanted to give her a new, better life filled with wonderful opportunities.
*******
The small island nation of Nauru was the first to answer Dan’s letter. “Yes. We will fly the Flag of Peace and Freedom.” The Prime Minister asked the children of Nauru to plan a celebration and to read their messages of Peace.
Other countries answered Dan’s letter. Some said yes. Some said no. Many didn’t answer. But every year he sent letters to every nation of the world and every year more nations said, “Yes. We will fly the Flag of Peace and Freedom.”
Time passed, the mailings continued. More and more people heard about the Flag of Peace and Freedom and helped spread the message and more and more countries flew the Flag.
This gave Dan hope. And yet . . . every day hatred and wars and killing continued to happen throughout the world.
“What more,” he thought, “can I do to make people listen, to make them understand?” He despaired that he would ever be able to do something big enough, important enough to make the whole world take notice.
*******
Charlie made arrangements to take Lisa to the West Coast, to a very special place called “Wild Things”.
The journey went smoothly and soon Lisa was a California girl. She was happier than she had ever been at the circus. She had room to roam and a big swimming hole to bathe in. She made friends with the other two elephants who lived there. Butch was an old bull that reminded her of her beloved Uncle Mozambique and Buffy was a larger, older female who Lisa liked right away.
Every morning when she left the big, comfortable barn where she slept at night, Lisa would look up to the sky and watch the big birds soaring overhead. She always raised her little trunk to trumpet at them . . . and still all that ever came out was a giant wet raspberry sound. “Someday, Lisa,” Charlie promised, “You’ll learn to trumpet.” (Though he secretly loved her funny little raspberry sounds.)
Lisa and Charlie played together everyday and, slowly, Lisa learned to respond to voice commands. She liked the yummy snacks and the loving attention she received. She even began appearing in movies and working with actors. And she happily greeted people, and especially children, who came to visit her at Wild Things. Charlie especially liked to hold on to her magnificent little tusks and let her lift him off the ground.
One day Charlie noticed that Lisa was making sketches in the dirt with a little twig she held in her trunk. As he watched, she looked up at the distant mountains and the sun and the sky and the birds flying overhead and then lowered her head to make more marks in the dirt.
Charlie had heard about elephants that could paint with a brush on canvas and he decided to give Lisa a chance to create artwork.
Lisa took to painting immediately. She loved holding the brush that Charlie dipped in paint for her. She swung her trunk at the canvas, leaving bold, colorful marks. The canvases she produced were beautiful and expressive. People loved her paintings. Lisa was an artist!
Charlie was happy that Lisa enjoyed painting, but he sensed a sadness deep inside her. “She’s telling a story,” he thought to himself. “But I don’t understand what it is.”
*******
One day Dan came to visit Wild Things. He was wearing a Flag of Peace and Freedom pin on his lapel. When he met Lisa, she reached her trunk out to touch the pin. “How curious,” he thought. He laughed and laughed when she raised her trunk to trumpet, but all that came out was a giant wet raspberry sound. “We’re working on the trumpeting thing,” said Charlie.
Then Charlie told Dan that Lisa was an artist and showed him some of her paintings. Dan was first very quiet and then very excited . . . because Dan was an artist, too. He asked if he could paint with Lisa.
So Dan and Lisa began to paint together – and magic happened! People loved the paintings. And they loved to watch Dan and Lisa paint together.
Their paintings were of sky and water and earth and sun and love and respect . . . a rainbow hue of colors and images laid down on canvas by Dan . . . finished with bold, dashing strokes by Lisa who always let out her trademark giant wet raspberry sound when she was done.
Every time Dan and Lisa painted together, he would watch as she first looked up at the distant mountains and the sky and the birds flying overhead and then took the brush that he dipped in paint and began painting. “What,” he wondered, “is her inspiration? What is she trying to tell us?” And he sensed that, deep inside, she was very sad.
One day, Dan put colors of yellow and pink and peacock blue and gray on a canvas and handed the brush to Lisa to complete the painting.
When Lisa took the brush, her eyes became misty. She slowly looked up at the distant mountains and sun and sky and birds soaring overhead. Suddenly she stroked quickly, boldly on the canvas and then stepped back and looked at Dan expectantly.
What, he wondered, did she want him to do? And then he understood.
Lisa had painted the unmistakable silhouette of Kilamanjaro Mountain.
Dan took the brush from Lisa and first painted a beautiful sun and two soaring birds and then, on the very top of Kilamanjaro Mountain, he painted the Flag of Peace and Freedom.
Lisa sighed. And for the very first time since that long-ago terrible day, her heart was finally filled with peace.
And then Lisa raised her trunk and . . . trumpeted! A clear, beautiful, joy-filled trumpet!
*******
All around the world, people took note of the magic that was created by the Man and the Elephant, working together with cooperation and respect.
And people wondered . . . what magic might happen if human and human worked together with that same spirit of cooperation and respect?
Because we all live under the same sky. We are all warmed by the same sun. We all marvel at the flight of birds. And we all share the earth and the responsibility to keep it alive for future generations – of people and elephants!
*******
Lisa and Dan and Charlie all continue to work for peace. For a better world for humans – and elephants, too!
Their message: Think about peace for a moment. Don’t forget it. Don’t be afraid to trumpet it!
And, if you do, surely . . . “One day, the Flag of Peace and Freedom will fly over all the nations of the world!”
*******
Dedication
This story is dedicated to the children of the world in whose hands the future of our world rests.
And to the elephants of the world, a majestic symbol of what our world can be, should be, must be.
This is a story about a dream of peace and freedom.
It is also a story about love and imagination and creativity. For it is the creativity in each of us that, ultimately, becomes our own expression of personal freedom.
I’m so grateful to my dear wife and life partner Sandy who makes every day beautiful, and for her support and assistance in everything I do. Together, we do make dreams come true.
The spirit, humor, wisdom, creativity and vision of John Lennon, Walt Disney, Antoine de Saint Exupèry, Claude Monet, Toulouse Lautrec and Albert Einstein have been guiding inspirations to me.
And to Lisa . . . thank you for sharing your huge magic with me and the world!
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