“Where There Is Love There Is Life”
A couple of weeks ago, I read a story about a little elephant and a dog. It was a love story, albeit one outside the usual definitions. No moonlit kisses. No ripped bodices. It got me thinking about this thing called love. What do we mean when we say that we love someone, that we are loved? From where does love draw its power (for love is certainly powerful)?
Digging around, I found the following four stories. Each illuminates an aspect of love that is vital to its power to transform our lives, our world. Consider these tales my Valentine to you.
The Power of Trust
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges didn’t know what segregation or integration meant on the morning of November 14, 1960. She only knew what her mother had told her as she prepared for the first day at her new school: “There might be a lot of people outside the school, but you don’t need to be afraid. I’ll be with you.”
Ruby was one of six first-graders selected to begin the court-ordered integration of New Orleans’ public schools. As she and her mother reached William T. Frantz Elementary that morning, Ruby saw the crowds and heard the shouting. She thought it was part of Mardi Gras. She quickly discovered it was not. People yelled racist slurs and threw things as Ruby, escorted by U.S. Marshals, climbed the steps of the school.
Ruby sat in the principal’s office with her mother that first day while enraged white parents refused to let their children enter the school and teachers refused to have a black child in their classrooms.
Her mother accompanied Ruby again the next day—the day they met the one teacher who welcomed Ruby’s presence, Barbara Henry. The teacher took them to her classroom where Ruby was the only student.
On Day 3, Ruby’s mother had to return to work and look after her children at home, but she assured Ruby that the marshals would take good care of her. “And remember, if you get afraid, say your prayers. You can pray to God anytime, anywhere. He will always hear you.”
Angry whites continued to harass Ruby. One woman kept a black baby doll in a wooden coffin as a protest outside the school. That scared Ruby more than anything. Taking her mother’s advice, she began praying on the way to school, which she says helped to drown out the nasty comments people hurled at her. Although some white children returned to the school, Ruby remained in a classroom of her own that first year. She never even went to the cafeteria. As a precaution against threats of poisoning, she ate only the lunch her mother packed for her.
But there was kindness, too. When Ruby’s father lost his job and the local grocery store refused to serve the family, people both black and white stepped up, finding a new job for her dad and protecting the family’s house. From farther afield, people sent letters, gifts, and money. It was as her mother had said. Ruby didn’t need to be afraid. She was not alone. That she could trust her mother’s words gave a six-year-old girl the courage to change the world.
The Power of a Shared History/Vision
In the 1950s, Jack Evans lost his job at Neiman Marcus in Houston. Because he was gay. Around the same time, George Harris was fired from his job at the CIA in Virginia. Because he was gay.
George moved to Dallas. In 1961, he met Jack. They bonded over politics, fell in love, and have spent the last fifty years working together on the causes they believe in, especially the issues affecting LGBTQ people in the Dallas area. Last year, on the very day the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country, George, 82, and Jack, 85 were married in Texas. It would be fair to say they have worked most of their adult lives to make this day happen.
In the late 1950s, there was no gay rights movement in Texas. LGBTQ people were fearful and kept quiet. It was a time when you could get arrested at a private party just for being homosexual. As George and Jack shared their thoughts and experiences, they began to forge a vision for an active gay rights movement and how they might foster its growth. Organizing the movement became a natural extension of the work day they already shared in their real estate business.
Together, they founded the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce. On the organization’s website, they state: “We envision a global society where individuals and businesses have equal rights, equal representation and equal opportunities.” George and Jack also created The Dallas Way, a project that preserves and presents the history of Dallas’s LGBTQ community. Their hope is to inspire young people to make a difference. To recognize the struggle that has gone before, and to continue it. The history they share has strengthened their love, and the vision they worked for has given strength to others.
The Power of Constancy
To travel 1,200 kilometers on foot is a challenging undertaking. To make much of that trek through a country in the throes of a bloody civil war would be daunting. To do so carrying a five-year-old child in your arms seems beyond imagining. But in 2009, that’s exactly what Jamila Abdulle did when she made the journey from Mogadishu, Somalia to Kampala, Uganda to seek medical attention for her ailing daughter Sagal. The girl had been born with a hole in her heart, and nowhere in war-ravaged Somalia was the critical care she needed available.
The journey took 21 days. Aside from the dangers and stresses of the trip—Sagal’s health continued to deteriorate—Jamila had other things tugging at her heart. To save her daughter, she had left behind her husband and seven more children.
In the refugee camp in Kampala, Jamila at last found hope. She met another Somali family who suggested she take Sagal to a hospital operated by the United Nations. They were able to keep Sagal alive until arrangements could be made through the International Rescue Committee to send Jamila and Sagal to Phoenix, Arizona. By September 2011, Jamila and her daughter were in the U.S., where Sagal underwent open-heart surgery. Today, she is a lively, active girl who plays with the other kids in her neighborhood.
It is not a story with a simple happy ending. Fighting continues in Jamila and Sagal’s homeland. They are still waiting to be reunited with the rest of their family. But without her mother’s steadfast determination to find medical help, Sagal would have died. Because Jamila refused to abandon hope whatever the risk, Sagal lives.
The Power of Healing
For Ellie, life began badly. The little elephant calf suffered from an umbilical hernia which quickly developed into a life-threatening abscess. Worst of all, his herd rejected the ailing infant. Ellie would have died, alone, if he hadn’t been discovered and rescued by the people at the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage.
Though the orphanage in Zululand, South Africa, was established to rehabilitate baby rhinos orphaned by poachers, it is also part of a wildlife preserve that includes elephants, leopards, giraffes, and zebras. When Ellie was brought there, the odds of his survival were 1 in 100. But his rescuers never gave up hope. They nursed him day and night. When it was discovered he had an intolerance to milk, his caretakers made him a special formula.
Ellie began to stabilize physically, but he was still suffering psychological trauma. Elephants are highly social animals and their grief at being rejected by their herd can cause life-threatening problems in a fragile infant. What Ellie needed was something to make him want to live again.
Thinking the little elephant might be cheered by an animal friend, his caretakers introduced him to a former service dog named Duma. Ellie and the German shepherd frolicked together in the sand pit that first day. They quickly became inseparable, and Ellie began showing an interest in life.
Without a herd, Ellie still faces many challenges in his development, but Duma’s affection has helped to heal his elephant friend’s emotional pain.
I had intended to put Ellie and Duma’s story at the top of this piece. But in the weeks between discovering their story and publishing this post, Ellie’s brave struggle ended. The little elephant died at the close of January. This post is for him and Duma and all the kind, caring people at the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage who gave Ellie joy and much love in his short life. You can learn more about their work here and visit their Facebook page here.