It was really cold, or rather, I felt cold. The sensation of ice cubes moving through my veins concerned me. Am I getting sick? I thought. And the depression, where did that come from? Depression has not been my companion for years. I feel fairly happy all the time, a by product I suppose, of years of yoga practice. But the feeling of a giant brick on my chest was weighing me down. It was 1:00 in the afternoon. Excited as I had been about the afternoon I was about to have off, I took to my bed and uneasily, sorrowfully fell into a fitful sleep.
And then, the dream.
The event was magnificent, something befitting Cinderella. The dress I wore….the most beautiful one I own, my hair? Coiffed into the perfect shape. I was on a very special date, or so it seemed, but the gentleman who was leading me by the arm (who I had never seen before) was not kind to me, not at all, and none of the people around seemed to notice there was anything wrong, even though they were looking right at me. I was totally vulnerable. I wanted to leave this man, and yet my feet felt like cement blocks. Looking down I saw my slender feet in sexy black shoes with ankle straps. Mystified that my feet would not follow my bidding to move, I tried again, and lo and behold the sexy ankle straps transformed into ankle cuffs. My feet were chained together so I could not escape
I woke with a start. “Whoa” I thought. “I hope that was not a premonition”. I head out into the chilly rain for an enjoyable afternoon.
As I returned, I parked the car and head home past Newark’s prized Prudential Center. Children waving lighted wands had been filling the streets for the last day or so, doing I knew not what. Up ahead, a slender person wearing a grey elephant costume was kindly engaging passerby and chatting. Coming closer I saw that she was holding a picture of elephants on chains. Ringling Brothers circus was in town. They arrived the previous night. For a moment, the child in me flashed on circus parades through the street and then the woman in the animal suit reminded me, these animals do not have happy lives. I really didn’t want to hear this. Not because I don’t believe it, or because I don’t care, but because I’m tired, like everyone else. Wanting desperately to close my eyes and ears to evidence of a universe populated by cold hearted beings, I listened briefly and went to move on. The elephant woman’s companion was having difficulty with the television needed to show the video of the mistreatment of the animals. I was inspired by these two, their calm dedication, their lack of anger, their calm fortitude. The television kept falling over. I tried to help him.
“Can I help you?” I said, offering to head home to get duct tape to hold up the TV. “ I live only a few blocks away.”
“I just need someone to stand here and hold the TV”. I can do that I said, not really wanting to, but how could I leave them there in the cold? I said I would take my things home, get mittens and come back, which I did. The television in question was now completely kaput. The duct tape was a moot point.
So the only other assignment possible was standing and holding a sign. Once again, my reluctance surfaced, but, well, I knew better, you see. I couldn’t leave, even though this was not how I wanted to spend my Friday night. Not at all.
I looked through the selection of signs to hold , and there it was, the picture. I don’t know how old she was, but for an elephant she was tiny and very cute, until you looked a little closer. Someone was whipping her on the head and…yep…
Her, not as slender as mine, ankles were cuffed together. Her head was bowed in submission.
And so I did. I stood and held the sign. It was intense and very uncomfortable. Embarrassing even. But the dividing line between her and me had been severed by that dream.
It was amazing to me, there in the frigid cold, watching the crowds arrive for the circus. Families with clear ancestral lines to slavery walked by one after another, I wondered if they connected the image in my hands of whipping and chaining with the suffering their great great grandparents experienced. And then there was the woman who smacked and shoved her child right in front of me. My goodness, I thought, we don’t treat each other all that well do we. It was doubly sad. I wished they could see. You can choose kindness, it is possible.
Of course during the duration from time to time I piped up with a vocalized “boycott the circus!!” But at a certain point I had to fall silent, for a long time, watching all those people. So easy for them to turn away and not understand. And then, bubbling up from some deep cavernous space in my chest the song, the melody, the only way I know to really express how I feel. So I started to sing, first in Sanskrit, then in English. “May all beings everywhere be happy and free”. And I started to cry. And then this thing happened. Oh, I’d heard about it. You know, read about it in books. But there is was. My heart quivered. Wow. After all these years. Just like they say. That elephants suffering was my own. I feel her a few blocks away as I write this. This isn’t a brag…I just want you to know she is hurting. Of that I am certain. And not just physically.
I looked over at the woman in the elephant suit and we were both crying. And there it was…you know the remaining time passed quicker with the singing. I wondered if they really thought I was mad and maybe I was. Well, maybe I am.
I arrived at my comfortable home, new fluffy red quilt and Lakshmi the kitten curled up in her matching fluffy red kitten bed. Sipping tea before bed. So much for my plans for the night.
And then the chill arose again, like ice in my veins, and the fear and the feeling of heartache dwarfing the feeling of comfort. I checked the thermostat, the room was warm enough. There was nothing to do but climb under the covers and go to sleep. And I wondered as I fell asleep, if my friend, the baby elephant, was cold. Of course, they must keep them outside, and it was really cold out, and wet. But then, perhaps I was feeling the cold of the ice in the veins of the man with the bullhook and the whip.
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