Elephant ThERapy

The New Yorker published a cartoon a few years back that now adorns one of my journals. It’s an elephant sitting on a therapist’s couch with this look of astonishment, while his therapist sits stoically taking notes beside him and the caption reads: “I am right there in the room and no one even acknowledges me.”

As a kid I was often grounded for outburst at the dinner table – the only time our family seemed to be in the same room – told I needed to do something “about that temper of yours.” In essence though, I was nothing less than at wit’s end with the Elephant avoidance of my family; I just couldn’t take the bullshit anymore and would explode. Thus resulting in hours and hours of isolation in my room killing time. (Thank God for imagination) We had quite a few Elephants in our house that knocked around, stepped on toes and shit everywhere and nobody said a thing.

Eventually, when they were pointed out, things fell apart, the family as a whole became a family as a half. No surprise, too, that the number of my outburst diminished, and I spent less time grounded. But as for the elephants the gig was up, they shrunk in size, not hurting nearly as much when you bumped them, and their piles of shit became less and less.

Years later I still lack tolerance when I see them. If anything, I might walk into a room and as it’s the first thing I bump into, I’ll say right off, “Did anyone see the size of that Elephant? Boy, does it stink in here!” Which can go both ways: everyone changes the subject, looks away at some imaginary point or a spot on the ground; OR there is a sigh of relief and an actual clearing of the air. Luckily, in most of America, this isn’t too taboo. Doesn’t work so well over seas, just in case you were wondering, but that’s another story for another time…

For all my intolerance of these metaphorical beasts, it continues to catch me off guard when God points them out in my own life. Mostly, because I didn’t know they were there, or I was convinced I was doing just fine. The catch of an intimate relationship, though, is the freedom and right to bring these things up. In my less controlling days I will find myself saying aloud to God, “Oh, and if there are any Elephants you want to address, let me know, even if I fight you to deny them.” He seems to take me up on this offer quicker than I’d expect or in the most inconvenient times. But having grown up grounded many times in a house that was breeding them like rabbits, I welcome these uncomfortable intrusions. It’s the price of intimacy. It’s the door to a better life. It’s how I become a better me… and you become a better you.

And I will do my part to keep Elephants from therapist’s couches asking tearful questions about their existence.