Elephants and Unicycles

Unicycles leaned against every wall of our garage when I was growing up, my little brother an avid rider.  I don’t remember how he started but he hasn’t stopped although his collection has whittled down to just one or two.  He used to have a six footer, one with a huge wheel, so many other kinds i cannot remember.  I do recall holding them so he could run and mount them and take off riding, a delicate skill of balancing and pedaling to stay upright.  I can see us all those summers ago, browned skins, cut off shorts and tank tops, him riding around in our court and me watching.  Years spotting him in parades, holding his bikes and supporting him as he jumped on, yet I never mastered the balancing act myself.  I can’t actually remember trying.  Life was more concrete for me, I needed both feet on the ground to maintain my sense of control.  So much less adventurous then, maybe now as well.  I do wonder how the inability to balance that unicycle, to jump on and trust the hand that was holding it, has followed me into adulthood.

I know I have never mastered the delicate act of balance which requires an acute awareness of your body, an intuitive sense of which way you need to lean to keep centered.  Too far in any direction results in overcorrection.  I imagine my life as if I were riding one of my brother’s unicycles, reeling first this way and then that, back and forth, even forward a bit and then back but rarely achieving that beautiful glide forward, back straight, head high, smiling for the parade goers.

As a surviver of childhood molestation, I learned to ignore my body.  I struggle to describe symptoms to doctors, I’m terrible with that pain scale.  I have allowed my body to be pushed to the point of relapse with a chronic medical condition because I don’t recognize the warning signs, not aware of my own body.  Without that keen sense of self, how can one maintain harmony?

I have also allowed others to push me, pull me until my stability is jeopardized.  It happens easily enough when you grow up as I did, a victim of a harsh culture, unable to impact your world or find safety.  What I struggle to recognize and then remember, keep imprinted in my mind and heart is that I don’t live in that world anymore.  That I can lean to the right bit and let that situation go by, edge to the left by addressing concerns.  The key is that I can get myself back in balance, maybe needing that helping hand to prop me so I don’t completely fall over.

The biggest struggle is not learning to lean though but to use my voice.  To learn to say no in any of the thousands of ways that don’t hurt feelings but allow for me to keep upright.  As an introvert who has been further traumatized by shame and judgement, I am most comfortable alone or in small trusted groups where I don’t have to be always watching, waiting for the next attack.  Even slight disapproval threatens my equilibrium.  Easier to be alone, not disappointing anyone or exhausting myself trying desperately to be good enough to escape criticism. The demands of motherhood knock most women out of whack, losing themselves in the needs of family, home, work, church, pets.  I am at the age in my parenting continuum where I should be sipping mimosas on the porch in the morning. Instead we are raising a grandchild who brings immense joy and constant requests to play.  Work should be almost behind me, yet I spend any mornings not with my grandson in the restaurant.  The days he is with his mama, I am there again.  This lack of alignment is showing in my health, in my attitude, in my marriage.  I have no me so there is nothing left to give.  Like a child on that unicycle with skinned knees and a cracked elbow, I am bleeding.  I want some bandaids, an ice pack and time away from things that pull.  I need to push.  I need to lean this way instead of that.  I need to figure out what my body is saying before I fall completely over and hit my head.  In my mind, I can see me, given the chance to just conquer this with no recriminations, riding freely, smiling, throwing out candy for everyone.

I have never ridden a unicycle.  I don’t see it actually in my long range plans.  I have ridden an elephant, one of the most centered days of my life.  As we dipped down into the river, the elephant lumbering this way and that, we jostled with her.  Her baby came to play, diving under the water, swimming between the group and resurfacing to splash us.  We tattered right and left but stayed steadfast.  When the mahout instructed her to dip her head into the water, we almost went as well, a trick he was playing on us. Had we fallen, the water was there to catch us but the elephants could have trampled us, a more dangerous situation than it appeared.  Yet, the demands on us were minimal.  Just ride.  Just laugh.  Just delight in the creatures around you, the gifts from God. In order to keep my calibration, I need more days like this.  Or more elephants.

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