Elephants as a species have a lot to teach us. Herds have deep family ties lasting generations, not surprising as elephants feel a full range of emotions like empathy and fear. Naturalists, scientists, and nature photographers have captured an incredible social dynamic called an elephant circle. Female elephants know how to rally around their tribe of women. When a female elephant is giving birth, the other females gather in a circle around her, protecting her and her baby in this vulnerable state. When the baby is born, the females trumpet in cheers celebrating their sister during this important moment. Likewise, when a female elephant is injured, the circle once again forms. As fierce protectors, when a sister is down they gather around her. Shoulder to shoulder, the elephants stomp and kick up dust daring any predator to try and attack one of their own.
Photographer David Yarrow has captivated the world with his powerful photo of an elephant circle. In response to this powerful moment in nature, Author and and podcaster, Jen Hatmaker wrote a powerful message to remind us women how to circle up for each other.
“This is what we do, girls. When our sisters are vulnerable, when they are giving birth to new life, new ideas, new ministries, new spaces, when they are under attack, when they need their people to surround them so they can create, deliver, heal, recover…we get in formation. We close ranks and literally have each others’ backs. You want to mess with our sis? Come through us first. Good luck.
And when delivery comes, when new life makes its entrance, when healing finally begins, when the night has passed and our sister is ready to rise back up, we sound our trumpets because we saw it through together. We celebrate! We cheer! We raise our glasses and give thanks.”
Recently I found myself in a vulnerable state, out of energy and drained of any positivity. While I am use to being the leader of the circle caring for those around me, I found myself in the center. Without me asking, my tribe of women encircled me. They poured out encouragement, they let me cry, they listened to my story, they brought me treasured gifts and gave their time to help me heal. One friend gave me a Christmas ornament from The Festive Farm Company that I will treasure for a lifetime. The beautiful metal ornament was paired with this note.
A Story of Love and Loyalty
“In the wild, female elephants are known as fierce protectors… This is who we are, and who we were meant to be for each other. Sometimes we’re the ones in the middle. Sometimes we’re the ones kicking up dust with fierce love. But the circle remains.”
When there was no strength left in me, this tribe of women encircled me. It was everything I needed to keep going. I have spent my life as a fierce protector, and even though I’m not used to it yet, I have unbelievable gratitude for my tribe who put me in the middle. We need each other. This is how the best moments are made sweeter and how we survive the tragedies.
Building your elephant circle
Some women have never felt what it’s like to have a tribe. That’s truly heartbreaking to me, and while it does not happen easily, I’d encourage them to start by getting into formation. I have spent years building my tribe by stomping and kicking up dust in many different circles of women. Here is my advice, just start showing up. Use your calendar and take note of the women around you. Record their birth due dates, job interviews, doctors’ appointments, big projects at work, and travel. Set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to show up for them. These are my favorite ways to encircle my sisters.
Meal deliveries: Tell me a new mother or a woman in crisis who isn’t ready for a home-cooked meal? If I am too busy to cook, I pick up take out to a good restaurant or deliver their favorite coffee order. When I do cook, I make sure to put the food in containers my friends can keep or toss. I like mason jars or biodegradable containers best. Women in the middle of the circle, should not have to worry about washing a dish and returning it. Sweet Potato hash, Pumpkin Chili, and Sweet Potato Chicken soup are my favorite recipes to share because they are even more delicious reheated the second time. I often keep these soups in mason jars in the freezer so they are ready to go for a friend in need.
Notes, Texts, Postcards: Handwritten cards are powerful. Surprise your friends with your words of encouragement. If you can never seem to find a stamp, try the Postagram app. It allows you to upload a picture, write a message, and it sends the postcard to your desired address for under $3.00. Between the cost of a card, a stamp, and the time it takes to gather these things, the price is well worth it. I also use the Bible App to send encouragement. My favorite verses are bookmarked and I send them when I can sense one of my friends might need an elephant circle. One of my favorites is from Isaiah, bringing comfort and hope to all who read it.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.Isaiah 43:19
Thoughtful Gifts: As I mentioned earlier, this elephant ornament was exactly the gift I needed. Another friend brought me a basket full of tea, post it noes, and other treasures I will need to fortify me for what’s next. I have also been given plants that bring me constant joy and energy. A Money Tree is a nice gift because it represents good fortune and it purifies the air. Bamboo symbolizes good luck and it’s hard to kill. While orchids appear fragile, they are actually very easy to care for. I love to give orchids as gifts because in celebration or in grief they represent eternal love and affection. Recently an Amazon book showed up in my mailbox, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. A friend surprised me with this gift, knowing I’d fall in love with the strong characters. Could there be a more special surprise for a booklover?
Love your friend’s family: While female elephants have their own herd of sisters and daughters to care for, they often leave their group to check on another herd of elephants. Each matriarch has her own family, but she knows there is great value in leaving for a short time to help a neighboring herd. Ask after your friend’s parents, siblings, and spouses. If a friend’s grandmother dies, grieve with her. Go to her kid’s soccer game. Make your home a safe space for a friend to show up at a moment’s notice.
Clean: Some women would be mortified, so I don’t do this with everyone, but sometimes I clean a friend’s house. When my best friend’s water broke in her bed. I borrowed an extra house key from her mother, washed her bedding, vacuumed, ran the dishwasher, then decorated with flowers and balloons to welcome her first baby home. When my sister was moving, I organized her new closet, vacuumed her floors, and scrubbed her new toilet. Depending on the woman, cleaning can be even more special than buying a new gift.
The good ahead
The past year had enough trouble for a lifetime. I wish for all of us to move forward into the new year as elephants would. Let us encircle one another with trumpet calls of celebration and guard each other with strength and loyalty.
Peace be with you,