Our church hosts a monthly Writer’s Guild where individuals can come together, share their piece based on a given writing prompt, receive feedback and critique, and then go and strive to polish and hone their talents. I am so grateful for this group! We met this past Saturday and the prompt was “Elephant in the room”; this is my flash essay response. An alternative title might be “An Ode to Narcissism.”
The mood in the living room has changed substantially over the last few seconds. A noticeable shift took place after Grandma Edna used that word about that boy in that tone. What had once been a lighthearted and jovial conversation about summer living and plans for the Fall became almost immediately a tense scene, one where even the dullest of knives could have cut through it like butter. Have you ever been in that scene? Neither have I…
Let’s recall a scene that makes more sense, perhaps. You’re in a crowded room and you feel as though everyone is looking at you. As you survey the gathering you notice hushed conversations, meaningful looks, and an atmosphere of palpable judgment. Surely this is because you are there. Of course, everyone is thinking about what you did a few months ago. I mean, why wouldn’t they? They haven’t talked about it in front of you or behind your back, not even once. Why wouldn’t the whole world be concerned with your minor indiscretion? Why wouldn’t the world still be obsessed with you many moons later?
And then it happens.
You begin creating an elephant right in the middle of the room. What has otherwise been a pleasant and enjoyable gathering is about to have a grenade launched and detonated with the shrapnel marring everyone. And you’re not even throwing the grenade and then walking away. You’re actually throwing the grenade and then scooting close to it so you can examine the markings on the outside and the pin on the floor when it explodes.
They are talking about me! The feet are formed.
Did you see the way she looked at me?! The tail whips lazily in the stale air.
I know they are thinking about it too. The core takes shape, leathery, saggy, gray, tough.
I need to address this—to talk about it—clear the air. Is that a trunk?
They really need to hear my side of the story. One ear flaps to and fro.
It would be best if they heard it from me and not someone else. The other begins to rustle in the breeze.
Is it hot in here? It’s so awkward right now. Two wise eyes look around the room.
I can’t take it anymore. I’m about to burst. And then the elephant begins to walk, and stomp, and spit, and snort, and wreck the entire room. Let me guess: once you finally decided to speak up and make reference to said elephant in the middle of said room, things only got worse. Am I right?
Because you, dear friend, you have created this elephant in the middle of the room with your narcissism and then sadistically set it loose upon innocent bystanders in order to feel better about yourself; subconsciously, of course.
I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of elephants inhabiting rooms these days are nothing more than simple, imaginary field mice. You might think that there was an epidemic of house-dwelling elephants rather than a culture so self-absorbed and self-obsessed that we cannot imagine not being at the center of things.
I write all of this as someone who has been there, as someone who is afflicted with the disease of “foot-in-mouth.” My symptoms are only two: open mouth. Insert foot. That is what happens when I delude myself with the belief that elephants have taken residence in my living room.
Because let’s be honest, shall we? Everyone in the world has better things to do than to sit around and stew in the mess of your dysfunction. Even though you may think of nothing else, even if your every waking second is occupied by reminiscing on this single topic, the world has gone on turning, people have been living their lives, and your issue has been largely forgotten. Until or unless, of course, you drag the bloody, mangled corpse onto the oriental rug and demand everyone give it a gander.
My five-year-old loves to play with shadows. The bigger the shadow puppet the better. How does one make a shadow puppet? In case you have forgotten over decades of your childhood-repressing adulthood, the way to make a shadow puppet is to place your hand in the beam of a flashlight or similar source and see the shadow created on the wall. The 5-foot tall bunny rabbit on the wall is nothing more than the tiny hand of a sweet 5-year-old.
Those who seek elephants in rooms are professional shadow puppeteers. The tiny creature, hidden to all but the well-trained eye, is magnified to a hundred times its usual size through the beam of light emanating for your discontent and egomania.
Do you want to know the truth? The reality here is rather simple and I hope you let it sink in and affect your innermost core: as you have been on safari for elephants you have indeed been playing the most dangerous game. You are the elephant. You are the prize. And because you insisted upon this transformation no one will rest until you are slaughtered.
The next time you see an elephant in a room, pause. Don’t say anything. Slowly close your mouth, place your foot back on the floor, rest your trunk back in your lap, and do nothing. You will be the better for it.
These are the rules of social engagement. Failure to adhere may prove deadly to your ego.