Sunday, December 16, 2012

Not Zen 36: Nature of the Job

An elephant was born in the wet season, the first calf of the year. He ate and played within the herd weeks before any other child was born. He grew large. Within a month, he was picking on the younger, newborn calves. Their mothers reproached him but he paid no attention to their trumpeting.

When other elephant calves grew big enough, the first born one began to lead them into mischief. He persuaded them to hide in tall grass until their mothers cried out in fear. Then they emerged, laughing. Later, he led them in charges on their aunts and uncles. The calves butted their heads against the knees of older elephants and hurt them.

His mother was the lead female. She felt embarrassed but she was unable to catch her son when he was misbehaving. She tried to enlist her mate to chastise the child. But the old bull would not listen.

During the dry season, the mischief culminated when a few young males on the edge of the herd found a trove of succulent palm grasses. The lead male and a group of females took it over. They were happily trumpeting and celebrating their meal when the misbehaving calf stole a swathe of it. They chased him but, laughing, he carried it off. His father returned to the meal and the calf ate his ill-gotten gains away from everyone else.

Only a short while later, the child returned. This time, as the adults prepared to drive him off, he snorted a cloud of dry, noxious dust all over the food. He had gone down to a clay pit and stored dust in his trunk so as to spoil the meal for his elders.

His father chased the miscreant down and swatted his behind with a switch. The calf ran off crying. The bull returned to the females, puzzled and frustrated.

"What are we going to do about that boy?" grouched the bull.

"I've been saying that you need to guide him," the matriarch replied.

"Guidance? Advice? That means nothing to him. He has turned against the herd."

"You underestimate yourself. It will mean something when the advice comes from you." She gestured with her trunk in the direction of their son, who could still be seen trying to hide at the edge of the veldt.  "Guide him every day. In time, you can turn him in our direction."

"That doesn't solve the problem right now." The bull stomped on his spoiled meal in frustration. "He needs to be fixed today. Those pranks have got to stop!"

"Guidance will do it if you're patient," the female replied.

"I'm not feeling patient."  He opened his mouth and took a shuddering, calming breath. He snorted at the dusty air.  "How much time will it take?"

"Until he's grown, I suppose."

"That's a dozen years, maybe more!"  The bull shook his head.  "When did correcting him become my job?"

"When you became the parent of an elephant," said the female.

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