When a child is born, nobody can be certain of the outcome, of who that child will become. Children are not, after all, tailor made, nor are they clones of their parents. Some children go so far off piste as to be barely recognisable when they land on the runway of adulthood. A nice well-under-control parent pair can birth a rebel in tooth and claw with piercings and green hair, one who marches with banners in full view of the neighbours in bright orange doc Martens and a tassel frock. Sometimes a rebel spirit grows quietly in the darkness of her developing mind, speaking nothing out, lips sealed as she appears to worship at the shrine of Good Behaviour and Expectation with the rest of the well-under-control family.
Then, one day when nobody is paying much attention she revolts. I’m going out, she says from a decent doorway distance. It may be Sunday, when nobody goes out if they’re wise. Lunch together on this day is not a matter of personal choice. But that is precisely why she chooses it. She may face opposition, but she has made up her own mind, possibly for the first time ever. And out she goes, her back ablaze with fiery darts, her eyes on the horizon. Coming home again is a tad scary but she has shown her true colours and now everything changes. There is an elephant in the room. She can see it and so can they, even through the mist of hurt and rejection.
The first time I heard the saying ‘there’s an elephant in the room’, I laughed out loud. Just the picture in my head was enough to rise me a guffaw. Obviously, nobody in the same room as an elephant has the option to move. We are all, in effect, pinned to the walls unless one of us acknowledges the elephant, which is not the problem, although the poor thing may well consider itself to be just that. Elephants are free roaming, given half a chance, and are accustomed to their eyes on a horizon that may well be hundreds of miles away, a horizon punctuated by the odd tree, as yet un-elephanted. They are less at home if surrounded by armchairs and people who seem to be pinned to the walls, mouths empty.
Growing olden, I am less and less able to accept an elephant in the room. Issues that used to be something ‘we don’t confront’ just irritate me out of sotto voce and resignation. I name the elephant. And then there is silence and a whole lot of empty room. It feels weird. I consider all those times I have let something go and I wonder where those somethings end up. Do they dissipate in the winds of time, providing they are kept quietly in the dark and not fed? I don’t believe so. I think they grow like mushrooms. When a person has the courage to name an elephant, they extend an invitation for talk, for conversation and resolution. It is extremely uncomfortable when someone names an elephant I have led in, so I know that feeling well, but it is tinged with relief. It’s out there now. The name is spoken and heard and the elephant desperately wants to get back to the tundra and the broiling sun. However, there is no going back for the people involved. There is only change afoot and it is one that can make or break a friendship.
I have often wished for more congruence in my life, more connection between the inside and the out but my historical hang-ups have strong monkey arms and no plan to let go. It is and always has to be a considered choice of action, a decision to be congruent. I remember asking a friend once if I could visit and she said no, it’s not convenient. I was shocked and hurt and yet now I see her just being honest, being congruent. It didn’t mean she was dumping me. We, as humans, are so easily hurt and that hurt can become a poor driver. We are always 50 per cent of both the problem and the solution and there are times when our hang-ups can have us believing the world as we know it has just ended when all someone said is no, it’s not convenient. We create a monster from a little hurt. It’s ridiculous and it’s human. Had she said ‘yes, come’ just because her parental teaching and expectations rose from their graves to crowd her head, she would have been false to herself and on edge with me. I would have clocked it regardless of her TV presenter performance. I would have waved goodbye to both her and the elephant and probably not called her again for ages, if at all, because she obviously doesn’t like me any more. Ridiculous indeed. However, that is not how it went and that friend and I are closer than ever.
Not being honest to self or honest to others may sound and feel like politeness but it drains and exhausts over time. Finding the self-love to name an elephant is not easy but so very freeing. Discovering that a friendship is no longer of value (too many elephants) is no discovery at all for it probably never was an honest one anyway. I just couldn’t extricate myself from it before because I was unable to see my own value. I knew this person made me feel uncomfortable, wanted me to be what they wanted me to be, but I thought so little of myself that this seemed like a challenge I ought to meet. Ok, I’ll be the person you want me to be. It’s ok. But it isn’t ok over time and we can barely see each other for elephants. And, remember, confined elephants will trample.