It’s two days until Election Day. I always feel nervous beforehand. I also feel sad. The election seems more driven by hatred than by hope and that’s always sad. Decisions driven by hatred don’t end well. Those driven by inspiration do better.
Minds are mostly made up so we vote and we wait. I had a need to lighten up, to get playful about the election to minimize some of my jitters. Since the icon for each party is either a donkey or an elephant I thought I’d pretend the whole presidential campaign was one big zoo.
This virtual zoo is different from a real zoo. It contains only two animals; donkeys and elephants and perhaps a skunk or two. The skunks I figured would help to account for some of the smell – zoos do have a distinctive odor – but then donkeys and elephants leave droppings indiscriminately wherever they go. Elephants blame everything, including whatever stinks, on the donkeys. The donkeys, predictably, blame the elephants.
In this zoo, the donkeys and the elephants don’t like each other (interestingly, in reality they’re not natural enemies.) It takes only the slightest innuendo from one or the other and they’re into it, throwing mud and any smelly stuff they can find at each other, just like angry monkeys do.
I’ve only seen one live elephant. It was at a zoo. It had a massive body and only a scant amount of hair. Because of its size, I noticed the elephant first before noticing any other animal. Elephants steal the show. An elephant’s trunk is long. It produces a variety of noises, including loud trumpeting. Because of the trunks singular shape and size some interpret that as prowess. The rogue male elephant is one dangerous critter. He can’t get along with anyone, his own family species included. His gland produces a substance call musth. The word means madness. This causes violent and out of control behavior. Still, elephants are intelligent mammals. When figuring the angles, elephants can surprise us.
Despite treaties and protections against poaching, it remains a problem. Elephant tusks are worth millions. There’s an increasing demand for ivory from China. No elephant worth his weight is any friend of China’s. Some elephants actually fear a Chinese takeover of their world.
Curiously, the elephant does not breed well in captivity. To that extent his sex life differs significantly from the family values traditionally held and revered by his larger extended family. It’s hard for such large animals to carry on secret assignations. Invariably they’re found out. Elephants are just too big not to be noticed.
Years ago I saw the movie, Jumbo. I remember a one liner distinctly spoken by the skeptical crow that is convinced that Jumbo can’t flap his ears and fly. The crow, in the voice of an African-American, exclaims, “But I be done seen about everything, when I see an elephant fly.” I’ll bet if African Americans, or Hispanics for that matter, have any say about it, they’ll be sure there’s no way this elephant is going to fly.
The elephant is noteworthy for his mass, but not grace. Elephants have limited mobility and can’t jump over obstacles. They plow forward and typically mow down anything that gets in their way. Their droppings are humungous, which earns the circus elephant a unique entitlement: while charming the crowd by balancing a ball on the tip of his trunk, there’s a man assigned to follow him to pick up what he dumps behind.
Unlike elephants, donkeys have a low profile. People often look down on donkeys, as some men have done with women. Donkeys enjoy little status; just beasts of burden, people say. Donkeys have an undeserved reputation for stubbornness. Dr. Davis a Veterinarian at the University of California sees donkeys differently; they may seem stubborn since donkeys always think before they act. He adds, “Much of human civilization was created because there were donkeys to move pastoralists [farmers] and traders around the world.” While elephants entertain the crowds, the humble donkey keeps on slogging, sort of like the Martha of Biblical fame. Martha does the work and Mary talks. The donkey, meanwhile, bears the full weight of any burden very much like women have for centuries.
The fourth Annual Donkey Welfare Symposium met this year at Cornell. It was not well attended, but those who came were passionate. They wanted to talk about the problems and abuses donkeys face worldwide. One observer noted that the donkey is the only animal in the Bible, excepting the snake that is reputed to have actually spoken. Guess what she said (and yes, the donkey was a female)? The donkey carried her boss Balaam on her back. She sees a disaster in the making, alters course to avoid it. Balaam beats her three times because he thinks she’s going the wrong way. “What have I done unto thee that thou has smitten me these three times.” Balaam’s mind is so messed up he doesn’t recognize she’s actually helping him. Eventually he gets it.
I learned recently, that donkeys in antiquity were once the pride of kings. They were buried with their rulers – an honor for their faithful service to their government, but not great for the donkey. It was a donkey that provided the transportation for Jesus when he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day Christians call Palm Sunday. Of course, this is long before private helicopters ferried select uptown dignitaries around. In those days it could easily have been a camel or a sedan chair but no, Jesus was too modest and self-effacing. He just wanted to get there with as little ostentation as possible.
Alas, it will soon be time to leave the comfortable sanctuary of my virtual zoo and check in for real with how the donkeys and elephants are doing.
I’ve got my fingers crossed.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.