In Praise of the Elephant Girls

by Jane Devin on 03/16/2008

“When an elephant is in trouble, even a frog will kick her.” – Hindu Proverb

1. Strength

ganeshtattooAmong the first things noticed about an elephant girl is her incredible strength. She can shoulder the burdens and carry the weight of many human experiences, and do so with dignity, even when her threshold for pain is made to rise ever-higher.

The strength of an elephant girl is not just an accident of birth. What was innate was her desire to survive. To do that, she had to push beyond the limitations of her own considerable endurance many, many times. She had to develop new muscles and ways to rebirth her spirit after forging through man-made obstacles.

One by one, she had to face her fears and conquer them. When new tragedies brought new fears, she had to teach herself ways to calm her pounding heart and carry on, putting one foot in front of the other, until she had walked through the worst of circumstances and found herself on the other side.

“Strong,” they often called her. And when she was young, the elephant girl took pride in this accolade, perhaps even making it a mantra that assured her passage through a particularly trying time. I am strong, she would remind herself, I will get through this.

In those tender years, the elephant girl might have mistaken strength for invincibility. It is possible that, in the midst of her own turbulence, while filled with the all-encompassing sense of an indomitable spirit, she felt called upon, even obligated, to lift whatever weight she could from the backs of others who did not have her strength, or her strength of spirit, or her survival skills.

“So strong,” she would continue to hear in later years, but by now the elephant girl would recognize these words not as an inspiring accolade, but as a weary expectation. It was almost inevitable that those who would notice her strength were looking to use it in some measure. There was a cause, a want, or a need of some sort, which lacked only the strong back, keen intelligence, and steadfast determination of an elephant girl to carry it through.

2. Loyalty & Temperament

The elephant girls are fiercely loyal. They make friends for life, but they do not make them easily.

Given their intelligence, well-worn hearts, and long and precise memories, the elephant girls are not easily forgiving, particularly to those whose emotional and physical marks were imprinted upon them during their journeys. The scars of the ankus on the skin or the psyche are not resented as much as those who purposely inflicted them, without conscience, and without regard for consequences.

Particularly resented are those who brush away or justify the damage they caused by pointing out the elephant girl’s strength, as in “she’s strong, she can handle it,” or “look, whatever wrong I did only helped make her as strong as she is today.” To them, she will offer no loyalty and give no protection.

Those who have never had to rebirth a spirit many times over have no regard for the pain of that particular labor, or the dangers. A spirit may be broken beyond repair, or crushed beyond the possibility of rebirth. Not even the strongest and most determined of elephant girls are free from these dangers that, although rare, loom as possibilities — especially in later years when the ability to rebound is not as assured.

The elephant girl will use her considerable strength and intelligence to pull a friend up and out of whatever pit she has fallen into, and will expect nothing in return except the continuation of friendship. She finds thankful expressions among her friends unnecessary. What she has, she is often willing to lend or give away, and the only expressions of gratitude she ever requires are the ones she practices herself — loyalty, care, and consideration.

3. A Love of Peace

It is true that elephant girls often participate in or even lead a stampede, but they never do so for weak causes such as revenge or hatred. They do so for the love of peace.

They brook no respect for the fraudulent kind of peace some claim to receive by turning a blind eye to injustices. Ignorance of facts, intentions, and circumstances is not peace, and has no goodness at its core.

The peace of the elephant girls is born from the strength of their convictions, which holds truth, fairness, benevolence, and integrity as most-high. Refusing to fight for a just cause, or at least to stand strong in the face of adversity, are not the actions of peace-lovers — but the baneful responses of those who are weak, and apathetic to all but themselves.

The elephant girl has learned that the barricades to truth and healing are not removed solely upon a peaceful request. The swollen rivers of human malevolence and misdeeds are not parted by mere wishful thinking.

There are times when only the sheer force of strength and a survivalist’s determination will remove the barricades and dam the river, allowing passage to those who wish to reach the freeing fields that lie on the other side.

There are times when the precise and visceral memories of an elephant girl lead her to know more about a particular moment than the moment itself presents. It is not intuition but experience that informs the path of an elephant girl. She recognizes old obstacles even when they appear as new.

There are times when an elephant girl must retreat in order to heal or rebirth her spirit, but no matter how long she might wish to enjoy sanctuary — and even when she declares a desire to make it a permanent state — eventually she will hear a call that speaks to her heart and takes her back to the wilds. The nature of the elephant girl is as much about her love for humanity and justice as it is about the tranquility found when she has an opportunity to repose and reflect.

4. And Finally. . .

The elephant girl is capable of the deepest kind of love and nurturing, particularly when it comes to children, because even when she is very old the elephant girl cannot, and would not wish to, forget her own once-young spirit — which long past childhood and through many rebirths, retains all the radiant hopes, bright wishes, and idealistic dreams of youth.

As a mother, the elephant girl is fiercely protective, but also pushes her young to try new experiences. She lends them her strength while helping them grow strong on their own. She guides and counsels, and rarely dictates, except when necessary to save her children from imminent and avoidable danger.

As a life partner, the elephant girl will constantly surprise you, not only because her loyalty is unwavering and her heart is continuously growing, but because in-between and even in the midst of triumphs and tragedies, the elephant girl has a childlike love of play. Strength alone did not get her through the roughest of times. Intellect and reasoning did not, of their own accord, bring her a sense of happiness. It was the ability to laugh — out loud and with the full strength of her being — that kept her survival instinct strong and helped her soul eclipse even the most painful of journeys.

The freeing fields on the other side of human discord reverberate with her laughter. Her all-encompassing spirit is at its best when roaming freely and without limitation, as it does when she is surrounded by the consonant spirits of those she loves.

There, on the other side, scars are not forgotten, but reinvented as works of art. The pain and tribulation of days past are not buried, but pulled up and transformed into wisdom.

The frogs who would kick her stand not a chance when the elephant girl soars.

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51 SueB March 17, 2008 at 7:30 pm

wow wow wow wow….

i don’t know what else to say. first the story, then, all these beautiful = incredible – heartfelt – aching stories.

i wish we could just all meet somewhere in a giant field….i can only imagine how much would be shared and learned.

rosie, i thank you for always leading us to stories that move and touch us and challenge us to think more deeply and widely.

jane devin, what can i say? you are just brilliant.

52 Lydia March 17, 2008 at 7:39 pm

I am not an EG, but my sister is and always has been. Part of it was her character, and part of it was because that was the role she received in our family. To be the strong one.

She’s had to be strong through so many things. Rape, abandonment, the death of a child. Many bad things that I have never and hope to never experience.

But yes, even though she has to rebirth her great big spirit from time to time, she always comes back, and she’s always there for others… most of whom have never gone through 1/2 of what she has but hurt nonetheless.

She’s there for them, as she’s been there for me, and I sent this to her in appreciation, because I wnat her to know that I do not take her strength for granted or where it came from.

I love you, Val!! SO MUCH!

53 MVM March 17, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Finally, someone understands. Thank you, Jane.

54 T March 17, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Thanks to Rosie for posting this on her blog. You always lead us to the most thought inspiring stories.
Jane, you are absolutely brilliant. And reading this story makes me feel a kindred spirit with the others who have had their souls touched by this story. I feel part of the herd. Many thanks for sharing this…..

I like to think I posess some Elephant girl traits. And I credit my elephant Mom and Nana for making me who I am. I am fiercely loyayl, sometimes to a fault. And I have been told by many that I have an empathatic soul. Several months of the year, I am a single parent with a deployed husband. I don’t care what anyone says, it takes a strong person to deal with a husband being away more than he is home. And much like elephants, many female humans make sure the rest of the herd is ok while the husbands are gone. My cats feel his absence, and in turn treat me as if I am one of their babies. Animals understand the depths of unconditional love.
Animals don’t make the conscious decision to treat someone like garbage. Where we fail, animals thrive. And this story along with the subsequent comments is proof of that.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Be well my elephant sisters. May much yellow come your way.

55 T March 17, 2008 at 10:55 pm

And I just realized while looking at bio’s, that I probably saw Liz and Queenie perform at Benson’s Wild Animal Farm in NH when I was a child.

56 Jan March 17, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Thank you, Jane, for this exquisite writing.
I have long related to elephants – as a role model- when my own mother & others betrayed me. I used their stories of behavior & pictures of their strength- to ease my depression. In my 40s- I found my biological father- (whom I had never known)- he had a small elephant tatooed on his arm- & an elephant poster on his wall- that looked much like mine. How could I have known?

57 A.P. March 17, 2008 at 11:39 pm

Hi Jane!

I can relate to several of the attributes in the EG. I am also afraid of mice as the old myth goes about elephants. LOL

58 jimi March 18, 2008 at 1:13 am


59 Lynda March 18, 2008 at 5:56 am

This one sentence is the most powerful for me:

“There are times when the precise and visceral memories of an elephant girl lead her to know more about a particular moment than the moment itself presents. It is not intuition but experience…”

I’ve struggled for years to explain this to friends, and you did it with just one sentence. Thank you!

60 VIVIAN March 18, 2008 at 8:49 am

So glad to have Jane back, i see ‘k’ got her post in first, my good friend, and now the other E_Girls. It is so refreshing to post good posts ,good thoughts, and memories, and i am so happy to see E-Girls from Rosie’s here. i joined Rosie’s blog, but i have been neglecting everything, that is right with the world. So now i am back in the good world, and hope the other can get along with out me[just kidding] Love you always Jane

61 Kellie March 18, 2008 at 9:09 pm

Rosie, you left me the perfect gift today with this story. It was exactly what I needed to hear today when I am in the middle of that river, fighting my way to the other side. I will laugh again, my spirit will heal even stronger than before, and there is always love somewhere. Thank you!

To the writer Jane Devin, you must be a very old and wise soul. Your words sang to me and comforted me and inspired me all at the same time. I hope to read more of your words in the future and have you bookmarked. Thank you!

My heart is just full tonight, and it was running on empty when I found this link. I feel part of a special group of people today.

62 Paula March 19, 2008 at 10:32 am

Thank you for inspiring me to carry on.

63 RosieFan March 20, 2008 at 12:01 pm

This writing is so much how I see Rosie……is she the Roseann is the dedication or is that her mom?
She hasn’t answered any ?’s about it on her blog, but she must have liked it/known it was about her to put it up.
Those kicking frogs are such a perfect descrip. of people who have attacked Rosie. Thank you Jane!

64 LBJ March 20, 2008 at 6:38 pm

Another very moving article Jane. Especially hard for me to read tonight, as my mother…whom you would love and recognize as one very much like you and your elephant girls…is in her final hours.

Her strength and courage over the years has been absolutely incredible and inspiring. Her nurturing of us girls never stopped, even as she got old and we were taking care of her. She always had some wisdom to share, and never stopped asking how we were, even when her own health was failing.

She has lived through so much, and she always held her head high even in the worst of times.

I wish these were better days and I could read this to her. I know she would feel the praise, even as she brushed it away.

God, I will miss her.

65 Lelainia Lloyd March 23, 2008 at 8:47 am

This made me cry. You *know* me.
Thank you for this.

66 Laurie March 23, 2008 at 9:43 am

This elephant girl thanks you for the gift of your words and for being able to see and know and share this.

67 Ngaire March 23, 2008 at 5:46 pm

From one elephant girl to another.

STUNNING writing.

awesome thoughts.


peace always.
Ngaire In Brisbane

68 Mindy March 23, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Before today, I never realised there was a “title” for the person and woman I am. I truly am an Elephant Girl. Thankyou for this fresh perspective.
It actually explains so much of the unexplainable.
Beautiful . I know now why I love elephants so much (lol).

69 rachel whetzel March 25, 2008 at 9:41 am

Thank you. I needed to hear those things about myself. I’ve had a rough year, and lost the friendship of not one, but three friends… all because I am “strong” enough…

70 suzi finer March 25, 2008 at 11:59 am

galumphing ’round the shop.

71 Christi March 25, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Thank you so much for this!!
I’m proud to be an Elephant Girl!

72 Jan March 29, 2008 at 12:26 pm

I am 66- a great-grandmother. My 46 yr old son will not let me see my grandchildren, (long story)- but he will let me send cards, letters. So, I will send my granddaughter a copy of the ‘Elephant Girl’.
Thank you Jane.

73 Jan.M.M. March 29, 2008 at 11:05 pm

I need to add initials since there is another Jan- perhaps more. I wrote the above comment-> g.grandmother.

74 Neda April 1, 2008 at 8:05 pm

In India, the elephant is a symbol of power, patience, wisdom, success, prosperity, and benevolence. Ironically, elephants are also a symbol of both chastity and great sexual energy. And, though elephants appear heavy and clumsy, their image is also symbolic of both clouds and gracefulness.
Many of these fascinating interpretations of elephant symbolism comes from the fact that elephants are fascinating creatures. They have a unique social structure in which group of females, as many as 400, band together to raise the offspring – while the males roam alone. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about elephants are their death rituals. Elephants often bury their dead with branches and dirt and, when coming upon the skeletal remains of a deceased elephant, they will pass the bones around from mouth to mouth, then return them just as they found them. No wonder Hmong legends also assume elephants lead spirits of the dead to the underworld.

75 Tobie2/Susan April 30, 2008 at 5:06 pm

You know, I book marked this page because I find great strength from it.

Interestningly, I also learn something new every time by reading the newest comments.

Such powerful energy among these writings.

Thank you again and again


Thank you, Tobie. – Jane

76 Kellie May 27, 2008 at 8:54 am

I was struggling to hang on…with everyone taking their pieces of me…. until i made a stand.

Needing inspiration, i remembered the EG and had to revisit this treasure.

Little did i know…it was just another REBIRTH.
(a journey i have taken before in my 43 yrs)


77 Grange Lady Haig Rutan August 30, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Same day, but a few hours after reading the “Belladonna Woman” I needed to connect with Jane again and read the “Elephant Woman” and found a totally different plethora of thoughts floating out of the windmills of my world weary bebop mind.

Barely four and I was having my portrait done in New York City, my aunt promised me a trip to Central Park Zoo to see the elephant or go to the bunny house. Even to this day my heart trembles at the memory of those dark legs that went up to forever and possibly being spouted at, and I chose the bunny house where I just walked up a grading and fed some carrots to precious little creatures in a wired cage.

Every year my father took me into New York to Ringling Brothers Barnam & Baily Circus at Madison Square Garden to see, you guessed it, the elephants; he even had a backstage pass and my little patent leather Mary Janes would walk over leaking hoses and into the dense heat of the smell of excrement which seemed to be smoking and wafting my way.

It wasn’t until my flight attendant sister took a trip to Africa and came back riding an elephant that I began to love her a little bit more. How could she? Rather, why couldn’t I have been brave enough to ride that mighty creature.

After all, I am a warrior and have been on both sides of causes, sticking up for my future sister-in-law when she was pregnant and her husband didn’t know what to do…’MARRY HER.”

Or when my friend Ursula had been in America and her husband was too busy to take her to become a citizen, I offered and drove into the bowels of Newark, New Jersey, three times, because she was so nervous she threw the papers away.

Or when my friend Jane and I were sunbathing up in my bedroom on the third floor with a lamp – to look tan for our senior prom – and I saw purple, and black map like circles on her back with raised scabs and welts – and she told me her mother beat her with a tv antena…and I told my mother, (long before DYFS) and she contacted the school and Jane moved in with us.

Somehow, when I read your piece Jane this morning I went into a catatonic space thinking I was an old “Belladonna” woman and began to try to figure out my feelings, I peeked into “Elephant” woman and somewhere between sunrise and sunset, 60 diamond minutes registered on my matrix, because of you…and I feel like I am all over the place; The Lone Ranger without Tonto and all of a sudden I remembered something about Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren…when I asked my husband if he would ever cheat on me.

His answer mentioned those two women and he said, ‘What could I do Grange if I was locked in a room and they both tried to take my belt off…I’d have to let them.”

And I realized that I have a bit of the elephant woman in me even though I was afraid to ever sit on one but your piece, this one, evoked such wonder down memory land that I am in awe of you…

78 Rita September 18, 2008 at 8:41 am

Iv always had this strange bond and feeling when it comes to elephants and reading that…gosh has made me realize that i am just that, an elephant girl… thank you…, ….its mirrored alot its freaky!

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