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Monday, 12 September 2011

An Unusual Fondness For Elephants

As a woman actively trying to cull her possessions and achieve some sort of transcendent, zen-like, materially detached peace ;), I truly have a problem when it comes to anything embellished with an elephant design or made in the shape of an elephant itself. I loath collections but I have been guilty of buying totally useless items only because they were in the shape of a gaudy, colorful, dazzling elephant.

Take this summer for example. My husband, brother, sister and I went to Oslo. While my husband worked, my brother and sister and I like dutiful Catholics, attended daily mass in St. Olav's which actually was not a duty at all but a serene pleasure as for once William wasn't there wreaking unholy havoc during the sacred celebration of the Eucharist. When mass was finished we got out my brother Sean's laptop and searched out various thrift shops in the vicinity. Unlike North America or the UK, Norway isn't big on thrifting unfortunately but there is the odd shop here and there so each day we walked hours through the city streets in the pouring rain and hit a new one.

When we found them, we would stumble in, dripping water victoriously all over the threshold and go off in search of...treasure. Each day I discovered something elephant related. Each evening I went through buyer's remorse as I agonized over why I had needed a marble elephant shaped ashtray that was heavy enough to double as a murder weapon if the need ever arose. I giggled in alarming hysteria, eyes glazed over as I said in anxious tones..."It's for my guests that smoke! My guests! They'll use it! They will! They'll love it! When they come over and want to smoke, they'll be very happy to see a marble elephant ash tray!" But alas, I convinced nobody. Sean rolled his eyes and asked why any guests that smoked couldn't just butt their cigarettes out in an old beer can like any normal person and I had to concede that he had a point. That and the only guest I have that smokes is in fact Sean.

The next day we again searched out another Fretex (Salvation Army), this time in a more ethnically diverse area of Oslo, where we all searched through piles of garments and after some time paid for those we had chosen. Outside we all smiled at one another and were eager to see what the others had got. Mary-Anne and Sean showed their purchases and then it was my turn. "What did you get Colleen?" Clutching my tiny bag, I can't decide whether to be brazen and confident or self-deprecating... so with a flourish I reach into my bag and pull out a huge necklace with large wooden beads and a massive wooden elephant hanging off it. I try for confidence "It's really cool, isn't it?" They stare at me. Mary-Anne bites her lip. Sean looks at his hands. Awkward silence. Then with what seems a huge collected effort, they both meet my eyes and say "Yes, very nice Colleen!" But I am not fooled by their insincerity, they hate it. I look at it with new eyes. I hate it too. The next few days and purchases remain a blur. Perhaps this is no bad thing. We also enjoyed Vigeland's Sculpture park and the Edvard Munch museum very much. One must throw in a couple cultural delights in the midst of so much mass going and thrift shopping after all.

Have a most lovely day!

Much love, C.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

There's a Lot We Don't Know

Sometimes I think about how much we don't know.

How endless stories play out all around us all of the time and we never understand them let alone know they are happening. We live our lives so narrowly, viewed through our own eyes and range of experience and so naturally, colored by our own perceptions.

When William was a year old, we bundled ourselves onto a train heading to the nearest town and there we sat while the rolling hills of Jæren hurtled by. The conductor was a lovely blond woman about my age and when she came to check our tickets, William waved his chubby arms at her and wrinkled his face into a huge baby smile, cooing and chattering with sheer delight. As his mother, it seemed to me that all the joy in the entire world was contained in this precious, eager messy haired small boy. I smiled indulgently at him and then, used to him being fussed and exclaimed over by others, looked up at the conductor, ready to share a smile over his endearing enthusiasm. Instead though, she ignored William altogether. She stared stonily over his head and pointedly didn't acknowledge him. His smile faltered a bit in confusion but each time she passed he tried again, beaming up at her and waving and playfully hiding his face and peeking out at her from behind small hands and each time she walked by with her eyes focused straight ahead. When we reached our stop, she went ahead of us to the door and we waited for a few seconds before the door opened onto the platform. All the while William continued his bid for her smile and she continued to stare somewhere just over his head.

The doors opened and I pushed the stroller out into the clear, cool sunlight feeling slightly stung as I tried to work out why she couldn't even have given him one little smile. Feeling protective and in a strange way in need of reassuring myself, I started murmuring to William "Don't worry Baby, you're so precious. Everyone loves you Sweetheart...".

And in a flash, I remembered life before William. Life that felt as though it was without hope. How in the space of a single August afternoon, I changed from being the sort of person who adored babies, any baby at all...I wasn't picky, and would make silly faces at them and want to hold them until my arms ached to being the sort of person who could barely find the strength it took to look at a newborn baby. Who would perhaps, stare stonily over their heads when they looked at me because if I had looked at their tiny faces, listened to their precious laughter...I wouldn't have been able to make it. I might have fallen apart in front of everyone. It was instinctive self-preservation. Eventually this healed but it taught me to be more sensitive to others. Not to ask casually when someone is going to have children; not to assume someone wants to hold my baby; not to make careless remarks about children in general.

Anyway, I don't know why the conductor on the train couldn't manage to smile at William. Instead of feeling offended by it though I tried, as I walked away, to think compassionately. Maybe she had suffered through several miscarriages. Maybe she sat in a doctor's office one beautiful summer day, much like I did, thinking her whole life was before her and instead had to watch numbly as her world collapsed around her. Maybe she had had a child who died young. I don't know. Maybe none of those things. There is always the possibility that she just didn't like children and I have an overactive imagination. :)

There is so much we don't know about others and the roads they have had to travel in life. I feel that we would get so much further if rather than be offended by others, we would remember that and try to live a life full of empathy.