In Civil War times, I’ve read, men would speak of “going to see the elephant”. They were going to experience battle for themselves. Some things are so large that they can’t be explained. They can only be understood through living through them.
Divorce felt a lot like war to me. I had been a kid in the middle of my parents’ divorce and a bystander in those that followed as mom searched repeatedly for love. Still, I was unprepared to “see the elephant” for myself…I wonder if anyone ever really is?
I had enough self-awareness from the beginning to understand that my life could become defined by the failure of my marriage, or I could create a different and fulfilling one for myself. Early on, I opted for the second choice. I decided to conquer my fears – and I had many – and to start to live a life of adventure.
We had purchased tickets on a group outing to Silver Dollar City, and I went even though I’d not told any of my coworkers that he’d moved out. His ticket got donated to the guy who drove the bus. I got a certain amount of pleasure out of that because I knew it would annoy the heck out of the man who was leaving me.
Do Pirates and Knights Ride Camels and Elephants?
When friends offered a ride to the Renaissance Fair near Kansas City I jumped at the chance to do something that he would have found ridiculous. After all, I didn’t need to please him anymore. And the odd mix of armored knights, carnival games, and pirates enchanted me. I only wished that I had a medieval costume to wear.
We ate giant roasted turkey legs and learned to talk like pirate wenches. I especially admired the heavy horses in the jousting tournaments and we waved to our favorite knights as they paraded past the stands. We played medieval games of chance. Some of us (the middle school boys) dared to fly high on the crazy contraption that shot people up and around on large rubber bands.
I rode a camel, a one-hump dromedary that lurched and bobbed like no horse I’d ever ridden.
Camels pace. Both left legs on one side of the body move forward together. I imagine that riding one across the desert for days on end would be a nauseous experience. However, camels have been domesticated for thousands of years. They are still ridden and used as pack animals, they produce milk and meat, and their hair is spun into yarn.
Every camel was wearing a halter and was led around the track by a handler. Still, one camel tried to buck off his rider and laid down when it was unsuccessful. Camels do what they want.
The First Brave Thing
All day I watched the Indian Elephant. I wanted to ride her so badly and I was scared to do it. She was tall, and her handler didn’t have so much as a rope on her…like a puny person could control an elephant that didn’t want to cooperate.
At the same time I knew that I would always regret missing an opportunity to do something that I’d always wanted to do. So I stood close to the track for a while to gauge her attitude and temperament as she carried people around the circle.
There’s real intelligence in an elephant’s eye. She looked well cared for, and followed close to her handler without fuss or fear. I paid my fee and got in line.
Riding the elephant would symbolize my transformation from a pitiful divorcee to a woman of confidence. Having “seen the elephant”, I wanted to ride the elephant.
“There were times, especially when I was traveling for ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ when, I swear to God, I would feel this weight of my female ancestors, all those Swedish farmwives from beyond the grave who were like, ‘Go! Go to Naples! Eat more pizza! Go to India, ride an elephant! Do it! Swim in the Indian Ocean. Read those books. Learn a language.”
My legs shook as I walked up the staircase to climb onto the elephant’s broad back. I’d invited the 2 boys to ride with me since there was plenty of room on the howdah, or saddle. We grabbed hold of the bar and nodded to the handler, who walked off ahead of the placid animal.
I felt the power of each step as her gigantic feet hit the ground! Unlike the camel, her gait was slow and steady and I felt secure on her back. I was proud that I’d conquered my fear. The ride was short, but the experience was powerful. It remains one of the most empowering moments in my post-divorce life.
Camels are also known to be ill-tempered and each camel was haltered and lead by a handler. Even then, one camel tried to buck off his rider and laid down when the rider kept his seat.