I’m in love. With elephants. It all started with Twitter. Yes, Twitter. I follow this guy named Yashir Ali who sponsors elephants and posts videos of them sometimes. He got me into elephants, and now I brake hard for elephant videos. In one, a baby elephant, or calf, is standing near a pool of water with her mom. It appears as if the calf is trying to dip her trunk in the pool when all of a sudden she loses her footing. She falls in. Within seconds she is almost completely submerged. Desperately, the calf tries to keep her little baby trunk above water. The mama is frantic. Without missing a beat, another adult female sprints to the mother’s side. We usually think of elephants as slow, lumbering, but when they need to move, they MOVE! I’ve never seen an elephant move so fast. Quickly, they devise a plan. Together the two adult females enter the pool and use their massive trunks to nudge the baby to the shallow end of the pool. They all walk out together to safety. The drama only lasts a few minutes, but it is riveting, beautiful.
Meghan Herrod, a former educator at the Pittsburgh Zoo, says this type of supportive behavior is typical of elephants. “The family bonds are incredibly important…” she says. Another trait typical of elephants is that the herd is almost exclusively made up of females. Herrod continued, “…the matriarch is in charge. Then you have the sisters, aunts, and nieces. Females make the decisions. Traditions are passed down from mother to daughter. The bonds are vital and unbreakable.”
It is these strong bonds that got me thinking about friendship—female friendships in particular. The kinds of friendships that change you and last across years and miles. The real deal sista thang. Much is made of how women don’t get along, but that’s played out. Passé. Okay, it can be true at times, but there’s a bunch of good stuff, too. Like when I text or call one of my girls and say “Hey, I need to come over” and without missing a beat she says, “Of course.” Or when one of us is worried about our kids and you hold her hand while she cries it out. Or when one suffers a death or illness in the family, and one of us gets online, starts a food chain and before you know it the family has food for a whole month. Or when someone’s house burned down and within hours, thousands of dollars had been raised for the family. We support each other. When one of us is in trouble, we come running to help and the pain is divided.
It’s not just the tough times; we are there in good times, too. Probably one of my favorite elephant videos is one where one has just given birth. Within seconds of the calf’s birth, the other elephants raise their trunks and begin trumpeting loudly in celebration, as they form a protective circle around mama and baby. It’s magical to witness. That baby is not just the mama’s baby, it’s everyone’s baby. It’s the same in strong friendships. When someone has a baby, we ALL had a baby. It is our baby, period.
I joined a local women’s philanthropic group about a year ago. At the end of each meeting, we share joys and concerns. A few weeks ago, one of the ladies announced that she was going to be a grandmother, and the room erupted. We ooo’d and aww’d and clapped in celebration. It’s the same when one of our kids makes honor roll after a long struggle, or gets that college acceptance letter. It’s when a friend has a fantastic first date, or gets a new job. We all share in the triumphs and the joy is multiplied.
Meghan also explained that in the elephant family unit, everyone looks out for each other. Even the trainer is “adopted” as part of the elephant family. In the last elephant video I saw, an elephant family is crossing a busy road, dust flying. The cars all stop to let them pass, cuz hey, what else are they gonna do, right? They’re moving pretty quickly when a calf starts to lag behind, and two of the older elephants stop and wait for the calf to catch up. Our friends echo this type of behavior. If we go out, we make sure everyone has a ride home. If one of us is the designated driver, we wait until the lights come on, and she walks inside before driving away. Or we say “text me when you get home.” One time I said this to a friend in the middle of dropping her off AT HOME. We cackled! The point is we look out for one another, and no one is left behind.
Don’t get me wrong. I know men have close bonds, too. They do. I’m also not saying we can even come close to being equal to elephants. They are perfect. We aren’t. At the start of our interview when I told Meghan that I was writing about elephants, she immediately said, “Elephants are the best of what humans should be.” I agree. Watching the elephant has reinforced to me the value of loyalty, compassion and sisterhood. Even across miles. I left family and friends a few years ago to move to Pittsburgh. We remain close, but distance and life intrudes on the time we used to spend together. So we use Marco Polo to see each other’s faces and to remind one another that we are never far from each other’s thoughts. That’s why I recently gave my Pittsburgh sisters little gold elephants as gifts. It’s a reminder that I will always have their backs, even if distance comes between us. We are bonded. That’s big.