by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann with Alice the Elephant
Though it may seem unlikely that an elephant could know anything about navigating the wild and woolly holiday season that is now upon us—you might be surprised. These thoughtful beasties have much soft, gray, and wrinkly wisdom to share with humans.
Alice the Elephant, an elephant in spirit form, is a wonderful companion of mine, and she has generously agreed to share five aligning tips to help you have the most meaningful experience possible this holiday season.
1. RELY ON YOUR POSSE. We elephants lean heavily on one another for emotional support and make it a point to linger together at our favorite watering holes. It keeps us strong. The holidays are no time to skimp on time with friends. I lovingly insist that you double down on phone calls, caring texts, walking/coffee dates, and nights out with your girls/boys. You’ll be having such a good time you won’t even worry about the fact that your holiday cards never even got ordered in the first place.
2. GRACE IS AN ATTITUDE. Have you ever seen an underwater view of a swimming elephant? We are capable of balletic flow and majesty! It’s as if we have no idea that we weigh as much as a car! We embody buoyancy. So, remember, when you are trying desperately to find a gluten-free, vegan, fair-trade, sustainably harvested, dairy-free entree on Pinterest to serve at Thanksgiving—and despite how heavy that might seem— you can choose to float. Breathe, and even try a pirouette.
3. SHOW YOUR HEART. When we elephants feel something, we aren’t afraid to express it. We cry. We reach out and touch each other with our trunks to trace the beautiful curves of our friend’s cheeks. I implore you this holiday season to say what you need to say—a good place to start is “I’m sorry,” or “I love you,” or “I appreciate you.” These simple gifts are always better than any kind of shark attack survival kit or three-piece, minty melon bath set from T.J. Maxx.
4. CLEAR A PATH FOR YOURSELF. We elephants aren’t afraid to do what it takes to get what we need. If the last juicy marula fruit is dangling from a tree’s tip-top branch, just out of reach, we will wrap our trunk around the tree and pull it out from the ground to get that fruit. What is standing between you and your marula fruit (a.k.a. your peaceful holiday season)? Too many commitments? Too many gifts to shop for? A holiday letter you have dreaded writing for twenty years? It’s time to pull out (by the roots) what stands between you and that juicy fruit! Jettison the letter. Go gift-free for a year or agree to exchange books, for that matter. And, for elephant’s sake, say no to the office party that gives you hives!
5. NEVER FORGET. Above all: Commit to believing that you deserve to experience all of the love and connection your heart desires. No earning or repenting or serving time is required. Elephants never forget this.
What if we treated people the way we treat puppies?
When we brought these two adorable pups home, they were trembling and shaking, terrified to leave the only safe place they had ever known. My husband and I offered reassurance in the only way we could: we cuddled our new bundles of joy, we spoke to them in soft, soothing tones, and we moved as slowly and unthreateningly as possible. Our new charges had no idea who we were or what we were saying, but our bodies and voices conveyed to them that they were safe.
We couldn’t very easily stand over them and professorially inform them that we had already raised one Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who ultimately became an AKC Champion and stud dog. We didn’t lecture them about the multiple advanced degrees and certifications we held, and when we tried to at least reassure them that we were licensed teachers (and one of us was a mindfulness teacher!), they were quite unimpressed.
Obviously, they didn’t need our words; they needed our voices. They didn’t need our brains; they needed our bodies. They needed our calm presence to provide them with warmth, safety, and soothing touch.
They needed softness and quiet. They needed stable others to hold and love them.
That’s what our human little ones usually need, too.
I thought of how often I tend to respond to my children’s distress with talk and words and brain stuff. Unlike the puppies, they speak English, after all! My daughter hits some fourth-grade friend drama, and I respond with a soliloquy about the difficulties of female friendship as I reminisce about old acquaintances now forgot and times of auld lang syne.
Which is really the last thing my daughter needs in that moment. She doesn’t need my stories — she needs me to hold space so she can tell me hers. She needs a big warm hug, a comfy spot on the couch, and a human who is present and available. She’s really just a puppy, with the same mammalian need for emotional connection to a member of her pack.
As mammals, we all first and foremost need a felt sense of safety– not just knowing we are safe, but feeling that we are safe. These two nervous but adorable pups are reminding me of that every day.
Which brings me to another point: no matter how much trouble this pair gets into (chewed shoes, muddy paw prints, potty accidents), all they need to do is look at me with those big soft eyes and all is forgiven. There’s no malice in those sweet faces, just innocent puppy curiosity. I can respond to their misbehavior by offering more appropriate objects for canine mouths to chew, but chewing them out doesn’t help.
I suppose dogs can be intentionally malicious at times. But isn’t it much more likely that they bite because they are scared, gnaw on shoes because their teeth hurt, and pee on the carpet because we don’t pay attention to their subtle cues?
Humans also intentionally hurt other members of their pack from time to time. But might they, like puppies, inflict pain on others not out of deep malice, but because they are scared, hurt, or ignored?
What if we took the same warmth and love and presence and forgiveness that comes so easily from us when we’re with a puppy, and extended it to members of our own species?
What if we…
… gave lots and lots of hugs and kisses and snuggles to our loved ones every day? *licking optional
… remembered that most creatures’ barks are bigger than their bites?
… responded with kind presence and warmth and attention to someone in need, instead of immediately trying to “solve” their problems?
… paid more attention to how our posture and voice and facial expressions and movements send messages of safety or threat to those around us?
… assumed that someone’s hurtful actions were not intentional?
… made time in our day to engage in fun and completely unproductive PLAY with others?
… said “I love you” many, many, MANY times a day? *licking optional
… paused and considered the deep and legitimate human and/or mammalian need that may have possibly motivated someone’s behavior, rather than assuming the worst?
… made soulful eye contact with the special people in our lives?
… talked a whole lot less, and listened and cuddled a whole lot more?
… saw everyone, including ourselves, as the embodiment of love itself?
… breathed deeply, listened carefully to our thoughts, and cultivated an awareness of our emotions so we could be safe for others… and ourselves?
… loved freely and fiercely and openly?
What if we nurtured other human beings the way we nurture our puppies?
91-Year-Old Woman Who Skipped Cancer Treatment to Go RVing Across the Country Dies After Year-Long Adventure.
When faced with a cancer diagnosis at age 90, Norma Jean Bauerschmidt chose the open road over the hospital. Rather than undergoing months of painful treatments, Bauerschmidt embarked on the adventure of a lifetime – touring the United States in a motor home captained by her son Tim and his wife Ramie. As Ramie explained to PEOPLE last year, when Norma’s doctor reviewed all the possible treatments for her stage 4 uterine cancer, the World War II veteran simply said no. “I’m 90 years old,” Norma said. “I’m not interested in going through that. I’m hitting the road.”
With the support of her children, Norma spent the next year living out her greatest dreams. She took a hot air balloon ride, went whale watching and finally enjoyed a view of the Grand Canyon.
On Friday, Norma died at the age of 91. Her family announced her death on the Facebook page Driving Miss Norma where thousands celebrated the Presque Isle, Michigan, woman’s many adventures. Norma will be cremated and buried next to her husband of 67 years, Leo, who died in 2015. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Norma’s son Tim said he was incredibly thankful that he had the chance to enjoy the final months of his mother’s life by her side. “I had no idea of what a special person she was,” Tim said through tears.
While Tim and Ramie worried about Norma’s health during the first leg of their journey, they soon found that the adventurous lifestyle improved Norma’s health – and her spirits. “The photos – you can see from her face that she’s just thriving,” Ramie told PEOPLE. “Her health has absolutely improved. She loves to eat pie and drink beer and all of that stuff.”
Norma also loved learning about what her decision to make the most of her final months meant to the thousands who followed her journey online. “Many of [her followers] have experience with cancer, and when we share [their messages] with her, she’s truly touched,” Ramie said. “She says, ‘Good. I guess we’re helping somebody.’ ” Ramie suggested that people could honor Norma by finding their own ways to “infuse some joy in the world. Pay it forward in their own community. Pay it forward in their own family. Take your grandmother out for lunch. Heck, take her out for a beer!”
I followed this page and loved the adventures and the concept…currently reading “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End: Atul Gawande”. Norma read this book too- what a way to honor your parents…by the way, I have an RV!