Carrying My Elephant

When I explained to my friend that I felt disconnected to my Plum, that I knew I wasn’t being emotionally available to him, that I feared for our relationship but felt helpless to muster the energy to play our pretend games or create my own Lego robot to battle his, she offered many gentle suggestions but one stood out. I needed to tell him the truth. Hardly shocking or earth-shattering yet I hadn’t even in my foggy state, considered the power of offering him my truth.  Her ability to discern and deliver hard truths and beautiful insight with a softened tone and gentle words has aided me in correcting my paths too many times to count now. I trust her, I believe she has my best interests and even more, my soul, in mind as she listens to me. What if I offered my Plum the same gift of truth?

Her ideas about how to stay present with Plum, to create some space for even a few moments of engagement that would carry him as I sunk back into the fog of memories and heartache, they changed our weekend and brought me closer to this sweet child. Putting the plans in motion alleviated the guilt I was trying to add onto over-burdened shoulders. We built some Lego guys, we chitter-chatted. By Sunday though, I was exhausted and weepy and just needed some alone time. “Gran can we play our pretend game?” When life was our normal, he and I took on the role of characters, or more accurately, I did. He always stays Plum but I am a cast of friends who have different voices and attitudes and agendas. Our group tackles the concerns in his mind, we work out proper sharing and competitions and word choices and even a new crush. This play forces me into giving him my full attention and he loves it, craves this secret activity of ours (if Chef approaches, SILENCE!) By Sunday morning, I was completely unable to take on any more roles, I barely had my own voice. “C’mon here Plum, let’s talk.” Instead of playing any other parts, I gave him my truth.

“Gran’s sad is so big, so heavy, it is as if I am carrying an elephant.” Spreading my arms out wide, I showed him how heavy they were, how cumbersome this elephant actually is.  “Gran is so tired because this elephant is huge and heavy and it is wearing out my arms, making my shoulders ache, my body is exhausted.” I asked him if he noticed that I wasn’t very attentive right now, he said I was grumpy. Yes! I owned his label and told him this elephant is making it hard for me to see anything else, my view is blocked. I get distracted with the heaviness of it, I forget to be nicer and I can’t pick up anything more. Apologizing for not being more with him, expressing that I so missed our special times together, I told him I wouldn’t be carrying this elephant forever. “But Gran, I thought you love elephants?” Clarity and history broke down my metaphor, I struggled to explain that indeed, I do and yet this one was coming between us. Still, he said he understood and he offered grace to his Gran, tempered his invitations to play and met me in the light of our truth. Even as I pondered my promise to him, that this elephant carrying wasn’t forever, I realized I had no idea how to set it down. Slowly, carefully, with great care so neither of us were permanently damaged, I imagined.

“Your joy is your sorrow” writes Kahil Gibran in “The Prophet,” a work that has greatly steered my thinking for over 30 years. The words of this poem have been echoing around my thoughts as I consider the question posed by my Plum. Yes, one of my greatest joys ever was when Stella and I interacted up close with elephants in a sanctuary in Thailand.  The opportunity to side atop one as she played in the river, to be dunked under by the mahout, her tender, and gasp in delight as a baby elephant swam under us and popped up spraying water all around us, this joy is deeply connected to my daughter and my time of discovering her fully as a young woman. Why didn’t I tell Plum my sad was as big as a whale? A huge building? When the words left my mouth to this sweet boy, I said elephant and it was truth. My most joyful moments are the self same deepest sorrow, forever joined in my love for these two children. Remembering how carefully we made meals for the elephants within this sanctuary, how we marveled at their size and gentleness, I am reminded that my grief deserves the same consuming tenderness.

One day I will merely visit with this elephant, I won’t be carrying it. That day seems quite out of reach in these early dark moments. For now, I got honest with my Plum and we are both better for it. While I am weighed down with grief, we have offered each other space to feel how we are, be where we are, we are finding language to share difficult emotions. Mostly though I was to free up a hand to reach out to this child.  Joy will come again, I am confident this child will we teach me the way back. Reconnected, I release the guilt and hold my sadness tenderly.

 

 

Finding Stella

Four years ago I was on my way to South Korea, carrying only my new tightly packed huge backpack and enough excitement to fuel the multiple modes of transport that would take me to my daughter. I was bringing her home from her year of teaching but first we were traveling to Cambodia and Thailand. Many weeks of traveling, just us and our backpacks. Mine was pink, I sent her a green one. A constant flow of information between us as we selected our routes, planned our hostel stays, determined how little money we could get by on, and especially the detailed plan for me to reach her apartment once I landed at Incheon International and then found the correct subway and then the all important right stop to disembark. I was traveling across the world to see my girl, all alone, Chef dropping me at the local site to catch the shuttle to take me to the airport 3 hours away. Many transfers, many opportunities for me to get mixed up, turned around, lost. I always get lost. This time, though I found my Stella, I was at her apartment when she returned from work, a testament to her preparation and determination to get me there, a story of just how badly I wanted to see my daughter.

I can point to many life events that have shaped and changed me, set my path on a new course. Some are awful, just so horrific they left me wandering in the dark lost and searching for too long. Other events opened me to new lights and greater glorious fields, new ideas and realizations of my more. This trip was the good kind. The very best kind. I saw my daughter as a woman on this trip, no longer my little girl. I loved who she was, who she had grown into. Sure and confident, living in a foreign country, alone and mastering it. She took me to favorite restaurants where owners hugged her as she walked in. She showed me her classrooms where children asked us to take them back to America because they loved her so much. I met her supervisors who said she always had a place there, she was a wonderful teacher. Then we began to travel and she showed me the world. She taught me how to navigate, how to find our way when English is no where to be found. She showed me her soul as we cried over the Killing Fields in Cambodia. She showed me how to play as we laughed with the elephants in Thailand. She taught me to eat  street food that I will never be able to replicate or name. We slept in places we agreed to never tell Chef about, we rode in vehicles we weren’t sure we would survive in. We talked into the sweaty nights and laughed every sweltering day.

I think my daughter is lost now, maybe I am. We can’t find each other. God knows that I would travel on any tuktuk or midnight bus with sketchy hipsters who haven’t showered in forever if it meant I could reach her. A constant flow of apologies, beseeching, anger, crying out to remember who we are, nothing I do seems to cross the divide. My God I miss that laugh, those eyes, that beautiful woman who teaches me things. I miss how her soul, always an old soul, uses creative ways to explore and explain her insides. Her art, oh Lord, her art. I miss how she loved so fiercely that it often broke her, she loved so loyally that she had no understanding of those who left others behind. I can’t find my daughter in this big world, maybe she has lost herself.

Four years ago today I was leaving for the trip that would forever change how I travel and why I travel. It forever altered how I see those around me, those in the places I visit. I seek out their stories, I want to know them and learn how my life is connected to theirs. Because we ARE all connected, that’s what she showed me most of all. She showed me that the water we waste, the clothing we take for granted, the extra food we throw out, the stories of suffering we don’t care to learn as we buy trinkets and bargain for the lowest price, we are connected to others who suffer. Today as I look back on that trip 4 years ago, I am reminded that Stella and I are still, forever connected, once through joy, today through heartache. She knows I will travel the world to reach her, she knows I will stop at nothing once she says she wants to be found. I feel her some days, so close she could be a shadow, a hazy bit of fog, I reach out but cannot touch her.  I trust that God is with her, near her, hovering over, listening to her soul. I know that God celebrates our connections, God loves our reconciliations and seeks restoration in our broken world. One day God will draw the map that will bring us back together. Today, we remember our past travels and keep walking in the light. Soon, Stella, we will meet again and my God won’t we laugh?