in Poetic Prose

What the Elephants Remember: A Fable

Elephant Crying

Some cold and flu germs only live for a few minutes.

The mayfly has a life expectancy ranging from half an hour up until a maximum of twenty-four hours.

Our skin cells live, on average, two to four weeks.

Some octopuses live six months.  Others, up to five years.

In 2010, the worldwide average life expectancy for homo sapiens was 67.2 years, although, currently, where I live, it is closer to 80 years.

Some species of turtle can live between 150-250 years.

Some pine trees can live over 5000 years.  Some sponges are thought to be more than 10,000 years old.

Tirritopsis nutricula is a species of jellyfish that is immortal — it will live as long as the ocean will sustain it.

Our sun is estimated to be 5 billion years old and is expected to live another 5 billion years before it dies.

The universe, although harder to calculate, may be somewhere around 13.75 +/- 0.1 gigayears old.  I’m not sure how much older it’s supposed to live before it doesn’t anymore.

How can all these “things” co-exist?  How can we inhabit a space together?  Isn’t that amazing?


What is the measure of a life?  The mayfly is born, reproduces, and dies in a day or less.  Does it experience angst?  Does the pine tree?  Do we want them to?

Does the sun feel the same about us as we feel about our skin cells?

Does a cold germ feel about itself the same as we feel about ourselves?

Does a 10,000 year old sponge look at the brevity of our lives and wonder if, between being born, reproducing, and dying, we ever find time to ask bigger questions about meaning and beauty and truth?


Does the length of time that one lives determine the kind of meaning one finds in life?

Elephants have the same lifespan as we do.  Do elephants think the same as we do?  They, too, bury their dead.  They mourn the loss of loved ones with tears streaming down their faces.  Their children play.  They like to shower.

Why are they not like us?  Why have they not developed civilizations and cities and guns?  We do they let us slaughter them?

Is it because they were wise enough to not put the men in charge? 

Or is it because they’ve decided that they do not want to be like us?  Is it because they remember that if we forget that we are animals we become brutes?  Perhaps they would rather die with the earth instead of becoming like those who got civilized and killed the earth?

Instead, they roam their ranges, follow the water, and forage for food.  Perhaps their lives look hard to us.  But that, too, may be a sign of all that we have forgotten.  And all that they have not.


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  1. If God does not exist, it seems hard to avoid nihilism while considering all these facts.
    Does it really make sense to believe in an objective meaning of life IDENTICAL to chemical and electrical processes taking place within the brain of an insignificant primate in an insignificant planet?
    Is that not an example of New Speak, redifining words and concepts in a way no average person would accept?
    I’ve read many atheistic attempts to do this and I fail to feel an emotional comfort and reassurance, this rather smacks of wishful thinking.
    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son