“Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash the elephant,
begging the body to do it with soap and water,
in tree shades big enough for the vast savannas of your sadness,
the strangler fig of your guilt,
the cratered full moon’s light fueling the windy spooling memory of elephant?”
Glitter and gold rise up from the white lights reflecting off each karat, nestled on neutral forms with a number assigned each piece. Placed with care in spacious glass cases, the jewelry awaits the buyers, voyeurs, and collectors to gaze lovingly upon its workmanship and possibly bid to take home.
Rising amongst the rectangular cases are connecting towers, displaying at eye level smaller themed collections. There, wrapped around a small pillow, ruby eyes look outward as its black enameled trunk hooks into diamonds.
I’ve never seen an elephant here before.
I’m a seasonal employee with Sotheby’s in Manhattan, helping out with their jewelry exhibitions and auctions, four times a year. Most of the exhibit staff is comprised of performers and we have formed a kind of family, catching up every few months and hearing about everyone’s newest project and the changes that have occurred in people’s lives. I started working there in 2011, so many have watched the process of my tears and trials, and been loving containers as I have shared my journey.
Over safety clasps and intricate enamel work, we have shared our stories and found community.
The elephant bracelet began a conversation for me, a return to my Guatemalan beaded keychain I have held in my hands so many times, it’s small tusks flexible in my pocket and the smooth surface a comfort to my fingers.
The elephant first resonated with me in the form of the Hindu deity Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. I had a small statue that I meditated in front of daily, and looked to as I felt wall after wall coming up in my anger and pain of loss. I had to trust that even though I was in a terrifying free-fall, that what was leaving no longer served me. Bit by bit, the obstacles would wash away, and I would see clear again.
In the wake of a horrible robbery while moving out of my married home in the summer of 2013, I decided to go on a yoga retreat at Villa Sumaya in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. I had just come out of a yoga class at Laughing Lotus and saw the poster on the wall. I was feeling the edges of the black lake of depression lapping at my toes, and when I saw the retreat would be over my birthday, I turned to the front desk and asked where to give the money. This was going to be my birthday gift to myself. In my present rawness, I was seeking peace in the storm, and a completely new environment.
The retreat ended up becoming the beginning of self forgiveness, opening a new healing space to move forward. I awoke on my birthday for morning yoga class, and watched the sun rise amongst the buzzing hummingbirds, giant green leaves, and towering dormant volcanoes.
It takes more than half a century to figure out who they were,
the real loves-of-your-life,
and how much of the rest-
the mad breaking-heart stickiness falls away,
the way you lost your taste for things like popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place for the ones who have etched themselves in the laugh lines and frown lines on the face that’s harder and harder to claim as your own,
often one love-of-your-life will appear in a dream,
arriving with the certitude of an elephant,
and it’s always the heart that wants to go out and wash the huge mysteriousness of what they meant,
those memories that have only memories to feed them,
and only you to keep them clean.”
Tears began and then steadily fell on my cheeks. As the final lines drew to a close, the teacher’s voice was joined by 11 others, singing Happy Birthday. I opened my palms to them, to the room, to the poem, and to this truth. The night before I had dreamed of my ex, and for the first time since the separation had begun, he was kind and loving. I knew this wasn’t the wish for reconciliation, but instead the beginning of acceptance within myself.
And now in the absence of his physical presence and facing his unilateral silence, all I had were the memories; the rise and fall, the love and heartbreak, the years of joy, and the crashing end. I had a choice on how I would keep this animal.
I went to the gift shop and bought a beaded elephant keychain, hooking it alongside my silver and gold keys. When I arrived back home in NYC, I felt something had shifted. I placed the keychain by my door and the elephant hung down, lower than everything else, surveying my sanctuary, it’s head turning towards a beautiful card my neighbor gave me of a volcano surrounded by pink blooms. His trunk high, he dangled and settled.
A year later, the same neighbor gave me a small elephant mirror, and I placed him on top of my bookshelf, his round belly reflecting the space, this new home I lovingly created. Below him on my desk was a small yellow rectangular post-it simply stating, in my own hand,
Gratitude for what I have learned.
Three elephants resided now within my walls, Ganesha, Guatemala, and the mirror, each standing their ground, raising their glorious trunks to trumpet, or sitting and gazing at me through wise eyes. Their legs, once caked with the mud of their travels, began to wash clean, the dried pieces evaporating away in the afternoon sun shining through my windows.
I sit in a coffee shop, enjoying a warm toasted sandwich, looking out over Lafayette Street. Across the way, two men work vigorously with shovels, breaking down the accumulated February ice and snow. Little by little, they create a pathway from the sidewalk to the road, allowing pedestrians a direct line. I see a woman walk through and muse upon her new-found ease. A bus rolls by, slowly making it’s way in the urban traffic, and when it has passed, the men have disappeared.
For a moment, I stare at the empty space, trying to understand where they went so quickly, and then my eyes scan left to see they only moved a few feet. Steam rising from their mouths in the cold, winter air, they create a pathway at the next crosswalk.
I put on my soft scarf and winter coat, and for a moment, my fingers brush up against the beaded trunk in my warm pocket. I walk out onto the cleared sidewalk and cross the street.