After I graduated from college, I got my first job teaching fourth grade in Coffeyville, Kansas. The Gillette side of the family was really excited because this is where my dad and his brothers and sister grew up and went to school. I enjoyed Coffeyville. It was an interesting area – lots of history! I got married in 1975 and made a lot of friends in Coffeyville.
In 1981, my husband and I moved back to Great Bend, Kansas and I decided to look into getting my master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Ft. Hays State University. I talked to the people at Ft Hays, and they suggested that I take the course: Interpersonal Communications. I figured it couldn’t hurt – communications between people is important! The class was held in the High School at Russell, Kansas (about 45 minutes north of Great Bend and not a bad drive). We had maybe 20-25 students which is a good size for getting to know each other. I learned a lot, but one of the exercises we did made a deep impression on me.
We were asked to pick an animal to whom we could relate. Many people picked horses or tigers, cats or dogs. I closed my eyes and thought about all the animals in the world. Which animal most reflected how I saw myself at that time? I ended up picking the giraffe or the rhinoceros.
Ok – so those aren’t animals that many would pick. What I liked about these animals was that they were unique looking, but they moved through their world as though they belonged. They didn’t see themselves as odd looking or weird. They were comfortable in their skins. They both have innate dignity and can move deliberately with grace and confidence.
The giraffe reaches high for its food – it stretches itself. It is non-territorial and fairly social so that it has no problem meandering around with its buddies. The giraffe can run pretty fast – maybe up to 30 miles per hour so it can get where it needs to go quickly. It is vulnerable when it drinks from a stream or pond. It isn’t easy getting that long neck to bring the head down low enough to drink. This is a time when the giraffe isn’t very graceful, but it manages to get what it needs when it needs it.
The rhino is more compact in shape with a thick hide that can protect it from most of the terrain it wanders. It also runs about 30 miles per hour. The rhino is a more aggressive animal than the giraffe and is more solitary. Once the rhino is over a year old it is pretty much safe from non-human predators. Unfortunately, human predators are another story and will kill the rhinos for their horns. The more I thought about these animals, the more I could see that we have a lot of traits in common (except I don’t run that fast)!
I told my family about this exercise and my dad’s sister did a cross-stitch picture of a giraffe with a baby on its back. I think it’s supposed to be for a nursery, but it was the only picture she could find of either a giraffe or a rhino. I love it! It’s in my bedroom where I can see it when I go in. It reminds me that, while I may look a little differently, I’m still graceful and confident in myself!