Thursday, January 14, 2010


There is a story about the training of elephants that explains how a huge pacaderm (yeah, I had to look the spelling of that one up) can be kept from running off by a tiny rope and stake. When the elephant is a small beast, he figures out that he cannot free himself, and as he grows older, he fails to make the connection that he is bigger and now able to get away. As long as he feels the rope around his leg, he remains convinced that the desire to escape is futile.

Well, because I am an elephant fan of sorts...seeing as I do generally vote Republican and am a University of Alabama fan (Roll Tide)...I find this rope around the leg limitation to be pretty amazing. And pretty revealing when applied to the likes of us.

How many of us feel the rope around our ankles? We are slaves to the woulda-coulda-shouldas as surely as we are to sweet tea, grits, and barbecue here in the South. We tend to live by a few rules that are unique to us, but a bit foreign to the rest of the country. Actually, I'm pretty glad that we have them. But in the midst of our traditions, we've built little fences, and have remained tied to the little stake instead of wreaking havoc on our nearby surroundings at times when havoc is in order.

For generations, many of our citizens have voted Democrat because we certainly weren't rich and in no way lined up with the values of the rich Republican fat cats. We hung on to FDR and JFK and LBJ for dear life. But I've noticed of late that there are a lot of pacaderms running amok in the "red" states. And about that "red state" you not find it hilarious that the South is primarily "red"? Why? Because we have more rednecks per capita? Perhaps.

We've also tended to marry younger than the general population. I was at David's Bridal last week with Jill looking at ball gowns and a girl who could not have yet graduated from high school was there with her entire family trying on gowns. In my own family, I have been the youngest to marry (at 22) in three generations. My personal opinion is that when it is is right...but you have to be able to support yourselves without outside assistance before I toss birdseed at you or purchase a toaster.

Oh, there are more fences that we build around our traditions, our rights, and our families...lines that we place there that folks who know what is good for them had better be aware of and not cross. We expect a certain mode of behavior here and we reject the notion that going to church on Sunday, sending thank you notes, and expecting manners from our children makes us less intelligent or less worthy of respect somehow.

However, it is true that we are a little intense about college football.
Case in point...this week, an arrogant football coach left an SEC team and went across the country to head up another program. My thoughts? Good riddance. The parents of the recruits and players? Furious. Student body? Angry enough to determine that the best form of protest was to burn a mattress. I have no idea what this could in "you've made your bed, now you've got to lie in it?" Or perhaps it was just handy. I'm betting on the latter.

But as Southerners and as Americans...we don't like to be fenced in. Erecting fences or unintentionally fencing others out, however, is another matter entirely and something that we are sometimes prone to do. Moving into a new town means that you must learn the local politics and backstory. Because not knowing who was what when and how it all comes together can put one at a terrible disadvantage. It is the social equivalent of being female and wearing white shoes after Labor Day or failing to paint your toenails and insisting on wearing sandals. These things are just not done. Not without people thinking that you are tacky anyway.

So we surround ourselves with those that are special or familiar to us and we fence others out. This is done as we stand in our little worlds like tethered pacaderms unable to break out of the circles we travel in by our own inability to recognize the state we're in. We fear change or appearing like we think that we are better than we are known to be. And this alone keeps us from being brave enough to break free.

Every once in awhile we come upon someone who does not see, have, or recognize any limitations. Fences do not exist to them, and they are either a breath of fresh air or a total handle to deal with. But they serve as reminders that life doesn't always categorize itself into neat little boxes and that at times the little fences we create serve as grounding points. And from that...appreciation for what we have is possible...and admirable.

Fences...they can keep you out or in depending on which perspective you have. But the truth is...none of it means anything if it compromises relationships or the purpose for which we were created. So, this pacaderm is going to tread lightly but with the knowledge that the rope is not restrictive. There are so many strings attached to so much of life...that I'm going to just believe that God has given me the strength to get through anything. Because He has. And He can do the same for you.

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