The Elephant in Chains by Jorge Bucay
– Are you sure? – he asked me
– Yes, I would like nothing more than to be able to sit down face-to-face and tell her how I feel. But I know I can’t.
The Fat Man sat himself down like a buddha in one of the horrible blue armchairs in his office. He smiled, he looked me in the eyes and, lowering his voice as he did every time he wanted to be listened to attentively, he said:
– Let me tell you a story…
And without waiting for my approval, Jorge began.
When I was small, I used to love circuses, and what I liked best about them were the animals. The elephant in particular caught my attention, and as I later found out, other children liked the elephant too. During the performance, this enormous beast would nobly display its tremendous weight, size, and strength… But after its performance, and until just before it went out on stage, the elephant was always tied down with a chain to a little stake in the ground that held one of its feet.
The stake however was just a minuscule piece of wood, hardly a couple of centimeters long. And although it was a strong thick chain, it seemed obvious to me that an animal capable of tearing a tree from its roots, could easily free itself from that stake and flee.
This mystery continued to puzzle me. What held it there? Why didn’t it escape? When I was 5 or 6, I still trusted the explanations given by grownups. So, I asked my teacher, my father, and my uncle about the mystery of the elephant. One of them explained that the elephant didn’t escape because it had been mastered.
So I asked the obvious question: ” If it’s been mastered, why do they keep it in chains?”
I don’t remember having received a coherent answer. With time I forgot about the mystery of the elephant, I only remembered when I found others who had asked themselves the same question at some time.
Years later, I discovered that , to my luck, someone had been sufficiently wise to come up with the answer:
The circus elephant does not escape because it has been attached to a stake just like this one since it was very, very small.
One of them explained that the elephant didn’t escape because it had been mastered.I closed my eyes and imagined a defenseless baby elephant fastened to the stake. I am sure that in that moment, the little guy pushed and pulled and tired himself out trying to get himself free. And, regardless of his efforts, he couldn’t do it, because the stake was too strong for him.
I imagined him tuckering himself out and falling asleep and the next day trying again, and the next day, and the next. Until one day, a terrible day in his history, the animal accepted its futility and resigned itself to its fate.
That enormous powerful elephant that you see in the circus does not escape because, unfortunate thing, he thinks he can’t.
He has that memory etched into his mind: the futility that he felt shortly after he was born.
And the worst part is that he has never returned to seriously question that memory
Never again did he return to test his own strength…
It’s like that Damian. We are all a little bit like the circus elephant: we move through the world attached to hundreds of stakes that wrest from us our freedoms
We live thinking “we can’t”, making mountains of things simply because once, a long time ago, when we were small, we tried to do something and couldn’t.
We do the same thing to ourselves that the elephant did, we etch into our minds this message: “I can’t – I can’t and I will never try.”
We grow up carrying this message that we impose on ourselves, because of which we never return to try to free ourselves from the stake.
When, every so often, we feel the shackles and jangle the chains, we look out of the corners of our eyes at the stake and think
I can’t and I never will.
Jorge paused for a long time. Then he came closer, he sat down on the floor in front of me and continued:
– That’s what is happening to you Damian. You go on living conditioned by the memory of a Damian, who no longer exists, who couldn’t do it.
Your only way of knowing if you can do it is to try again, putting your whole heart into it… Your whole heart!