Lessons learned from some old elephants


By R. Michael Johnson - Guest columnist



A traveling, road-weary salesman was driving through all the area’s little towns one bright afternoon, when he stumbled upon a beaten-down old circus.

Those of us who are of a certain age remember when the circus came to town. (Yeah, class of ‘84, we’re really that old.)

Anyway, the salesman decided he needed a break from his daily routine of pitching products and stopped at the circus for a little distraction.

The first thing he saw were a half-dozen elephants, all tethered to stakes in the ground by a small rope — probably less than a half-inch around.

No big chains. No massive collars. No giant fence.

Just a little piece of rope.

“Curious,” he told himself, as he shoveled popcorn into his mouth. For some reason, popcorn at the circus is the best popcorn on the face of the planet.

As he wandered around the grounds, admiring the sideshows, peering at the lions in their cages and listening intently to the barker, the dilemma of how a small piece of rope could hold back the world’s largest land mammal kept popping up in his head.

Finally, he decided to get an answer. Approaching the trainer, he asked the inevitable question. “What is the deal with the little piece of rope?” Was the first query. “And, how does that small twisted strand keep the elephants all in line?”

All the pachyderms would have to do is take one big step with their right foot, and “snap,” the rope is gone.

The trainer, with a sly grin had a simple answer.

“What you don’t see is the history,” he said. “When we get these elephants, they are babies. They are small, compared to how big they finally get.”

He continued, “When they first arrive, we put that same piece of rope around their right feet.”

Explaining that when the elephants are smaller, the rope is relatively large, comparably.

“We never take the rope off them,” he said. “And they spend their whole lives convinced the rope is holding them and is inescapable.”

How many of us are held by a piece of rope — real or imagined? How many of us have let past traumas or abuses or addictions control us, to this day?

The methamphetamine addict who was introduced to drugs when they were a teenager by a family member. The heroin user who started out by using Vicodin and Percocet because of an injury, then couldn’t stop and moved to street drugs to quench their thirst. The alcoholic who crawled inside a bottle when they got divorced and never crawled out.

All of these folks have one thing in common — that metaphorical piece of rope around their ankle. Deep down, they know all they have to do is make the decision to dramatically move their right foot, but they don’t. Oftentimes, they can’t. The physical, emotional and psychological ropes by which they are bound appear to be a foot thick, or more. The burden they bear is heavier than the elephant, itself.

All they need to realize — all any of us need to realize — is that with some faith, hope and help, we can all break these ropes that bind us.

It’s simple. But, although it’s simple, it’s difficult — that’s the rub. Whether it’s getting clean and staying sober, or just getting through your daily life and making changes to better oneself, the process of cutting the ropes is hard.

But, I know someone who has a razor-sharp knife, ready to slice through the weave like it is butter.

God can make it happen. All you have to do is ask.

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By R. Michael Johnson

Guest columnist

A former newsman and healthcare professional, R. Michael Johnson is a certified nonprofit executive and executive director of Samaritan Works, a 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable program which provides safe and stable housing and daily education and encouragement for recovering addicts, as well as giving assistance during the period of transitioning back into the community. The mission of Samaritan Works is sustained whole life recovery for men and women affected by substance abuse. Samaritan Works may be reached at 937-638-4545 or at [email protected]

A former newsman and healthcare professional, R. Michael Johnson is a certified nonprofit executive and executive director of Samaritan Works, a 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable program which provides safe and stable housing and daily education and encouragement for recovering addicts, as well as giving assistance during the period of transitioning back into the community. The mission of Samaritan Works is sustained whole life recovery for men and women affected by substance abuse. Samaritan Works may be reached at 937-638-4545 or at [email protected]