Updated: Jun 28, 2022
Years ago, my brother told me about a saying the pioneers of North America had when they travelled across the west. As they travelled by horse and buggy across plains, mountains, forests, and wetlands, through adverse weather conditions with no roads or cities to guide them, they would say: “You’ll know you’ve arrived, and seen it all, when you see the elephant.” As we endured some trials as a family, my brother, often asked me if I’d seen the elephant yet.
Over the course of a few years, our family had experienced the diagnosis of Autism, the diagnosis of childhood cancer and other medical issues, and bankruptcy. It seemed that along our journey, as a family we had endured one hardship after another. When we thought things couldn’t get worse, it seemed they did. My brother and I often laughed about seeing the elephant.
Then, one day, there it was! The Elephant!!
It was three years after the “worst year” of experiences, with our son in remission and many of our trials behind us, and my husband and I were away for a weekend without the children in Niagara Falls. We reflected on the fact that the last time we were here was with the kids, before any medical diagnosis or financial crisis, and how much had happened in the three years between those two visits.
I was in a novelty shop purchasing some trinkets for the kids, and as I looked in a box of “lucky pennies” I saw the elephant! It was a tiny brass sculpture, with a shiny 1998 penny on it’s back – 1998 was the worst year we survived! I knew that this tiny elephant, with it’s “lucky penny” was the finale – we had arrived, we had seen it all, we had seen the elephant, our journey was over! Praise God!
That tiny elephant sits on my kitchen windowsill where I see it every day. Most days I don’t even notice it is there. Some days, I look at it and smile. I remember what we came through as a family, with the grace of God, and the support of many. And I smile.“I realize that journey is never really over. Cancer is never a closed chapter, and autism is a continual battle. Life is a long and winding road with many potholes along the way. But, we must take our eyes off the pot holes, look at the countryside, count our blessings, and enjoy the ride. And someday realize that we’ve “seen the elephant” and smile.
Postscript: I wrote this story over 20 years ago. Seeing the elephant was not the end of the story or the end of our trials as a family. Over the years we spent many hours in hospitals due to our son’s ongoing medical issues. We endured countless hours of tears and worry over his health. We also struggled through years of care of a nonverbal child with autism which involved sleepless nights, violent outbursts, and challenges with medical appointments, hospitalizations, schools, daycare, and adult care planning.
Over the years we learned to cry out to God in anger, fear, and in thanksgiving as we leaned heavily on our faith and to draw strength from the hope that only God can provide in the darkest times. We were often praised for being ‘strong’ but we were actually weak but supported by a strong God.
The Elephant penny continues to be a symbol of hope as I realized that our journey was never really over despite “seeing the elephant”. It makes me smile to think about all we’ve endured in the journey of parenting a special needs child through all the peaks and valleys it involved. God is faithful. Even in our darkest moments He is there with comfort, strength, and love to encourage us to continue putting one step in front of the other towards our final destination.