Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Elephants in the House of Love

My nephew Kirk (the one in the black shirt by me) and I decided to choose a photo from holiday's past and each write an impromptu story inspired by the photo to jump start the holidays and our creative juices.

Knowing this was the chosen photo prompted the turning of my wheels. I thought of how most families have "elephants," particular issues that are avoided that create either deeper denial during holidays or conflict and distress as individuals try to address the "elephant."

The photo also reminded me of "Larger than Life," the movie in which Bill Murray inherits an elephant upon his father's passing. This movie had particular significance for my nephews and me because it was released just after Mr. Murray had just been an angel in disguise for us at a Chicago Bull's game and the Elephant Sanctuary in nearby Hohenwald, TN had just opened the year prior. 1996 was an elephant themed year.

Now as I sit looking at the photo and attempting to write, I feel unexpected tears. Why would a photo so funny and dear strike a chord of sadness? The young elephants in this photo are now nearly 18, 24 and nearly 21. My sadness has something to do with the word 'dear' or more correctly the experience of someone being dear. You see I took my nephews to the above mentioned basketball game because they were dear to me. Their parents were going through a divorce and I wanted to give my nephews a positive memory. My intention, the Universe and Bill Murray got my nephews a memorable present but what I learned was the importance of presence, honestly showing up with another and listening. The 'doing' of my gift was my way of saying, "I'm sad you're going through this" but I never actually said that.

Of course, I didn't learn this lesson well enough. As my father was passing four Christmases ago, one of the bigger elephants in my life, I was told by a friend that his mother's cancer was ultimately a gift because he was able to share with her all he needed before her passing. He said, "Be sure you say everything you need to him."

I thought I did this with my father until he died. That's when I realized I never just honestly said, "I'm so sad." I sat by his bed and sang to him. I held his hand and reminisced. I thanked him for things like ensuring my car oil was changed regularly in college and for giving me Duchess our poodle in fifth grade, but I never did the simple thing. I never looked at him and said, "Daddy, I'm sad you're dying. I'm sad I feel like I've never really known you and you've not really known me." Yes, it was a stretch for me to sing especially since I'm not prone to this, but I was in control. Singing didn't make me feel vulnerable, the way simple honesty would have.

I did not practice presence. In my not wanting to feel the pain of his possibly responding gruffly to me, I said nothing at all. This of course didn't allow me the opportunity to hear him potentially say he was sad too.

Now I look at the photo above and reconsider Bill Murray's inheritance in the movie. We all inherit "elephants" of some sort. If I'm sincere in my prior story about building a house of love, I'll embrace the "elephants" in my life
as opportunities to be present and honest, not judging, but honestly speaking from my heart what's true for me.

I've nothing against gift giving, but this holiday it will be interesting to see if I can practice the level of presence to which I aspire and desire and allow that to be the greater gift I offer regardless of whether it's received. Just imagine if we shared our presence as much as we tend to share presents in this country.

And don't forget to check out my nephew Kirk's story and leave your thoughts at one of our sites .. optional of course :)

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