On Being Real

Posted on: September 21, 2018, by :

It’s footy finals time and some of us are dreaming of what might be!  It is easy and fun to get caught up in the hype, placing our ‘heroes’ on a pedestal and expecting that they will deliver the Holy Grail for which we yearn. Sometimes our expectations and our attestations may be just a little unrealistic!  American story-teller, Garrison Keillor, tells the following story about the plight of a father trying desperately to uphold his image before his young children.

The setting is one of those ‘safari parks’ and has to do with an elephant that was demanding, with increasing fervour, to be fed peanuts.  The children were feeding the elephant from their car (against the rules of course!), and as they gleefully supplied the huge creature with nuts, the elephant poked its trunk further and further inside the open window.  Cursed with the broader picture adults must carry with them, the father knew that sooner or later they would run out of peanuts, something the elephant might not appreciate!  After the peanuts were depleted the father handed the boys a pack of biscuits from the picnic hamper.  But that supply wasn’t going to outlast the elephant’s hunger either.  The father, somehow, managed to drive slowly away from the elephant, listening with fear and trembling as the elephant withdrew its trunk from the car, making little bumping noises with the ridges of its peanut-gathering device.  As they drove away, one of the delighted children called the father ‘the world’s greatest Dad.’  But ‘the world’s greatest Dad’ was still shaking, both because of what might have happened, and because he knew that he had come very close to being revealed for what he was – not ‘the greatest’ but an uncertain man in an unpredictable world.  “Don’t tell your mother what happened,” he cautioned the children.  But of course she was told the moment the children got home.  And for years afterwards, whenever the father became a little self-important, the mother could simply remind him of the elephant.  Nothing mean, you understand, just a gentle reminder of clay feet and shaky hands in the midst of what had been perceived as a major triumph.

I love that story, because it speaks of a vulnerability that makes the father both authentic and whole.  Vulnerability is not too fashionable these days, especially amongst men.  But deep down, most of us sense that we are often close to being revealed for what we are: uncertain people in an unpredictable world.  And that’s OK.  A level of honesty about our vulnerability is important in life.  It can help break down the walls of self-importance and individualism that seem to characterise our society.  If we can be honest with ourselves, recognise our own limitations, then we have a much better chance of being honest with others.  As I read it, genuine vulnerability is at the heart of the story of Jesus – no pretence, no masks, no arrogance, just simple honesty with everyone he encountered.

It may be risky to ‘expose’ ourselves in this way.  But it is also the way to Life and fulfilling relationships. So who knows? Maybe it’s the ‘losers’ in this finals series who are better placed to own their vulnerability and thus integrate this wisdom? Maybe … … but I still hope we win!

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