I went to the circus last night with my family. It had been a few years since the last time the circus came to town. Being there brought back many memories of the circus when I was a kid. I remember going to see the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus when it came to Atlanta. We had seats close to the ring (if memory serves). At one point, they asked for volunteers. I raised my hand as high as I could, wiggling and pleading, “oh please, oh please, oh please!”; and was deeply disappointed when they chose another child in my section. I remember the clown car driving into the ring and how impossibly all those clowns climbed out of that little car. It boggled my too-rational-for-my-age mind–and was most likely the first strike in my dislike of clowns. (Other strikes: creepy make-up that masks the true face, slapstick comedy and all the scary movies of the 1970s that involved clowns.)
There were trained animals: camels, zebras, tigers, dogs. The set that got the depth of my heart was the elephant show. Three old Asian elephants (the ones with the smaller ears). They were freckled, a little splotchy and looked like they could use a good massage with some extra-thick and creamy lotion. They moved steadily and gracefully, carrying their tiara-ed female performers–dancing and standing on stools and hind legs, balancing on each others backs. Two female and one male elephant. I didn’t catch his name, but the male elephant really touched me.
He reminded me of Dad. Old, wise, kind, moving slowly with grace, and a deeply emotive quality in his eyes. At times it seemed the elephants were smiling, maybe even enjoying their time in the spotlight. Elephants do more than perform at the circus, they are work animals. They carry posts and pull supplies across the grounds during set-up and tear down. They are responsible for pulling and pushing the main tent masts into place. They earn their keep.
Elephants are connected creatures. They thrive in community. They remember each other. They love. They love other elephants and they love other animals. They have compassion. They show joy and sadness.
There are several things that remind me of Dad– stars, Dr. Who, the beach, owls, trees, my cats–but I think elephants may be the best because they embody his remembrance in their expression, emotion, ambulation and wisdom.