You know how sometimes something gets stuck in your head and you can’t seem to shake it? I’m not talking about bad songs or annoying commercials, (although there are a few local ad jingles that keep coming back to me like a bad rash). I’m talking about a thought that circles around and around in your head looking for a place to land.
Today that persistent thought is about elephants. Last night I read something about them I never knew. They can’t jump. As in, can’t. Physically impossible. I checked with several reputable online sources just to make sure and they all said basically the same thing – that elephants are one of the few mammals that can’t jump, not even a little hop. They can’t bend their legs enough to push off the ground. Their bone structure won’t allow it.
This surprised me because I’ve seen circus elephants do all kinds of impressive things. Even though they weigh several tons, they can stand step up and down off of platforms. They can even stand on two legs, although elephant trainers say it isn’t natural and they don’t like it much. But elephants do not and cannot jump. Period.
I realize this is not life-changing news, but it has grabbed hold of me for some reason, and I think that reason has to do with the idea of “can’t.”
I’m guilty of using it too often, even when I don’t say it out loud. “I can’t get that work done. I can’t cook well. I can’t write that book. I can’t find time to exercise. I can’t ignore my iPhone.”
Generally speaking, we humans are quick to “can’t.” It’s such an easy default position, isn’t it? I think that’s why, by the end of January, many of us are making jokes about how resolutions never stick. Because by now we’ve had enough time to convince ourselves they just “can’t” work for a variety of different reasons. The idea of “can’t” lets us off the hook. There’s no need to try if you can’t.
But in most cases, our “can’t” is code for something else, like “I’m scared” or “I just don’t want to.” Being scared or unmotivated are both legitimate human feelings, but they make us feel like weenies when we admit them to ourselves, whereas a “can’t” is out of our hands. We want to make progress, to take a chance, to do something new but, well, we just can’t. “Can’t” keeps us safely rooted to the same old spot on the ground.
But the truth is, we’re not elephants in a long jump competition. If we were, we could rightfully claim our “can’t.” But we can do a lot of things, even extremely hard things. We might not do them well. We might look stupid in the process of trying. We might screw up big time. But, in most cases, we can – if only we will.
Perhaps at the root of every “can’t” is our stubborn human will. Can we convince our will that it’s not an elephant? Can we coax it into jumping, even when we’re not sure of where and how we’ll land?
I haven’t figured it out yet. And I admit that part of me wants to cling to my “can’t” because it makes things simpler. But knowing this small fact about elephants has given me a new standard for “can’t,” for judging what is and isn’t possible. This year I’m hopeful that I can convince my sometimes fearful, sometimes lazy human will that, even in the face of intimidating odds, it can make a daring leap.
In the words of the great 1980s hair band Van Halen, “Might as well jump.”
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.
Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography