An ancient fable relates the tale of a group of blind men upon their first encounter with an elephant. Having heard of an elephant before but not knowing anything about them, these men are given the opportunity to feel the creature in order to know what it is. In this story (which has been told by countless people groups on multiple continents for over a thousand years) a string of 3 to 6 blind men each approach the elephant one at a time, grabbing different parts of the animal.
One, having felt the side of the animal, claims with certainty that an elephant is some form of wall. Another adamantly disagrees with him claiming the elephant is some kind of tree, having wrapped his arms around the animal’s leg. A third chimes in stating that it must be some form of farming equipment, like a plow. He, of course, had felt the tusk. Yet another still claims they are all fools stating this is nothing more than a kind of snake, all the while wrestling with the elephants trunk.
Depending on the version you hear, the story ends with everyone getting in a fight. In some versions it is resolved and they learn from each other, and in other versions it is not.
In recent years, this particular fable has gotten a lot of air time as an anecdote to explain the validity of postmodernism. At best, this cute little story is a flimsy defense of postmodernism. However, it does serve as an excellent example of perspective.
As you travel around the elephant, your perspective changes. You see different pieces, reach out and feel different parts. It does not change the elephant but it changes your view of the elephant.
I write this, my last journal entry from the dark continent, sitting in the same chair, staring off into the same distance and watching the same sunset as all of my other entries. I am once again out in the village where all of this started for me. It was here I spent my first six months learning a new language and culture and, eventually, falling in love with a people.
Since that time, my work has taken me to many other places, other villages, but I have always been able to come back to this place. Now, this is my last sunset in this chair. Tomorrow morning I take the trek back into town to finish packing, but I had to make it out here one more time.
The purpose of this trip was singular, to say farewell.
I have walked all the way around this elephant, and I feel as though much of that “walking” was done from this chair, collecting my thoughts and putting them on paper. It is funny how your perspective of a thing changes as you continue to experience it. I think back on my first experiences in this place.
My first weeks of language study, out here by myself, I was not able to communicate and everything was so alien and different. I sat in this chair, watching the sun go down, and wrote of how dreadful and hard it was here.
I remember times, toward the end of that six months, when I was finally able to communicate and surrounded by people who had become closer than friends. I sat in this chair, watching the sun go down, and wrote of a sense of belonging, of this place becoming comfortable, even becoming a home.
Now, a year and a half later, I have come to say goodbye. I sit in this chair, watching the sun go down, writing of sweet nostalgia and reminiscence, looking (perhaps for the last time) on a precious treasure I shall never forget.
Dreadful and foreign, accepting and familiar, and a precious treasure, at different times I have perceived this place as each of these. Indeed, it is all of these things.
The village chief and my next-door neighbor (the two men I have grown closest to out here) stopped in this afternoon and spent longer than they needed to with me. They stopped their work in the rice fields to bid me farewell. We sat laughing and sharing stories.
Later, my neighbor came back over by himself, an emotion sweeping over his face that I have rarely seen. He asked me to stay, at least until December when the rice crop was finished. Then he asked me if he would ever see me again.
I was honest. I told him God only knows.
I used the opportunity to share the good news of the gospel with him one last time. We read some of Romans and talked about righteousness. I reminded him we could spend eternity together if he would only accept Christ’s work for him on the cross.
My heart breaks for these people. My continual prayer is that they embrace Christ.
The sun is finally setting, sinking behind the palm trees on the horizon, its last rays of light giving way to darkness. I can no longer see my paper. As the sun sets on this day, so it sets on this part of my journey.
And thus ends a chapter.