–by Michael Meade (Feb 08, 2013)
I had been working with young people in Watts, South Central, Los Angeles. We had worked hard to dispel the despair that gathers in certain neighborhoods although it arises from all streets where dreams are deferred.
Arriving home, I was tired and overwhelmed by the weight that falls through this world and encounters young people trying to come up into life. I turned on the TV. A herd of elephants went walking through a nature documentary. They were going along in a mob until they came upon a swollen river that crossed their path.
One by one they entered the torrent of that river. Each seemed to follow the other exactly, as if the feet of one reached for the print left by the one before it so that all would reach the other side safely. The first one made it, seeming to know of other footprints made in some past flood. Soon enough, they were all across. All, except one who stood at the edge of the river and would not, could not enter. It was a young elephant; not tiny like a child, more like an adolescent or youth. That one wouldn’t go any further than the edge of the river, even though everyone it knew was disappearing form sight on the other side. It began to call out and cry; a piercing high sound and a low rumble that shook the Earth.
Some older elephants must have heard or felt the lament of the young, because they turned around and came back to the raging river. The entire herd gathered on the banks and looked across at the young one stranded on the other side. The young one, silent now, stood before the river of life, but still wouldn’t cross. There they were, on either side of the river that runs between the old and the young, between the “have crossed” and the “have nots”; between the future and the past, between a society and its outcasts.
I have to tell you what the herd of elephants didn’t do. They didn’t send the police. They didn’t float a Zero Tolerance Policy across. They didn’t post a list of rules or begin counting to three strikes. They didn’t prescribe drugs or behavioral therapy. They didn’t send professionals, experts, or even peers.
What the elephants did was begin to cross back over. The entire herd entered the turbulent waters that separated them from the youth. They crossed back to the other shore. Once again, the invisible feet of each elephant seemed to find the prints of those that went before until they all arrived on the shore. They all gathered around the one who couldn’t, wouldn’t enter the turbulence of life. Some kind of discussion seemed to ensue, but National Geographic must not know the language. No translation or interpretation was offered. Yet, it must have been the language of hopes and dreams that becomes screams and cries and rumbling if someone doesn’t stop to listen.
Eventually, they all entered the river again, this time with the troubled youth amidst them. This time, they all made it across and continued down the path together. By then, I had forgotten how tired I was and how the river of despair seemed so overwhelming. I was refreshed as if that river washed away some residue of anguish from my own youth.
I thought of how that young one would never forget how everyone heard its voice, how they all came back as if they knew they needed him or her.
I thought of how the older ones must have remembered a time when they were lost or unable to enter life properly. How else would they have understood the cry of the youth? How else would they have known enough to listen, to turn around. How else would they remember those who might be left behind?
— Michael Meade