There is an ancient Jainist parable about a group of blind monks who heard that an elephant had been brought to town. I’m not going to do a very good job retelling it, so I’ll let the all knowing Wikipedia do it:
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a drain pipe”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, “I perceive the shape of the elephant to be like a pillar”. And in the case of the one who placed his hand upon its back said, “Indeed, this elephant is like a throne”. Now, each of these presented a true aspect when he related what he had gained from experiencing the elephant. None of them had strayed from the true description of the elephant. Yet they fell short of fathoming the true appearance of the elephant.When I first heard this story, a) I didn’t know it was a Jainist parable, and b) I didn’t know what Jainism was. But it stuck with me.
Several years ago, I was living in an apartment that had four bedrooms, and two baths. Two of the bedrooms were connected to the bathrooms, then other two bedrooms were positioned in such a way that it was clear which bathrooms they were supposed to use. Well, two sisters moved in to my apartment, one, in to the bedroom connected to my bathroom, and the other into the freestanding bedroom that was supposed to use the other bath. They decided that they wanted to share a bathroom, MY bathroom.
Now, I’m not the tidiest person in the world, and cleaning bathrooms is up there with vacuuming on my hated chores list, but these girls were SLOBS. It was driving me NUTS. I complained about it to my therapist, then remembered the Jain parable, and realized that it was a small thing, and I needed to focus on the big things. When I got home from that session, I quietly gathered my stuff from the bathroom, and moved into the one down the hall.
I then spent a lot of time haunting the local thrift and discount stores, looking for an elephant. This is the first one I found:
He moved into my new bathroom with me, and he still lives near my vanity sink. Which, as you can see, badly needs to be washed.
I wasn’t necessarily looking for a glass elephant, but I was glad to find one that would remind me to look at the big picture in the setting that inspired the beginning of my collection.
Over the years my elephant collection has grown.
My second elephant(s) is still my favorite: The sticker on the bottom says they were hand-made in Thailand, and most people who see this think that I must have traveled to collect them. Unfortunately not. I picked her up at the same discount store I found the first elephant.
I’ve had elephants come to me without trying. For instance, the lamp that the previous owner of my condo left behind: It’s a bit masculine for my taste, but I still resist any effort on my mother’s part to replace it with something less elephantine.
And the bookends that I thought were pink and pretty and vaguely armadillo-ish, until I got them home, turned them over and found the “made in Kenya” sticker on the bottom. My sister has even gotten in on the act, and brought me home a tiny elephant that lived on my desk at work, you know, when I had a desk and work. He’s waiting for the day when he can go back… So, as far as collections go, it’s pretty small, but that’s okay. My house is pretty small itself, and it gets cluttered enough without the aid of tchotchkes.
I really didn’t even mean to start collecting elephants, it just sort of happened. Still, if I’m going to have a collection with a theme, it might as well be a meaningful theme, right?