There’s an old expression that people used to ask when asking if someone had experienced something unique or special. Have you seen the elephant? Today seeing an elephant isn’t particularly hard to do – go to a zoo and there they are. They used to be a big draw in circuses as well, until people realized how traumatic it was for the elephants.
At any rate, seeing the elephant meant checking a box. Today people might talk about it as a bucket list item. Have you seen Niagara Falls? Have you seen the elephant? Have you been to Paris in the springtime? Have you seen the elephant? According to Jon Sterngass, “seeing the elephant” also signified a quest for satisfactions in disreputable quarters.” Wikipedia describes another meaning for seeing the elephant for soldiers – have you been to war? Have you seen battle? Wiki describes seeing the elephant in a negative connotation – yeah I saw it but wish I hadn’t.
I confess to not really knowing the term. I’d heard it before but it didn’t resonate with me. Seeing the elephant? Whatever. Didn’t care. I’d seen elephants since I was a kid. But the term stuck for me when I read a Sports Illustrated article about the 18 inning World Series game 3, in which Tom Verducci compared watching that game to “I have seen the elephant”.
I’ve seen a few metaphorical elephants in my lifetime. I’m hunting many more. Currently seeing the aurora borealis is by far tops on my bucket list of elephants. Paris, Scotland, Hawaii, hiking the Appalachian Trail, hell, even seeing the last six episodes of Game of Thrones… the elephant doesn’t have to be big to be meaningful.
Life is very short, and as the expression goes, “Man Plans, and God Laughs”. I keep aiming for the elephants, and hope that I might see all of them before I check out of here. Without goals, what would life be?