The Plagued Parent

posts about surviving our children, the Baby Boomers who raised us, and everyone else with an opinion...

Like White Elephants

It’s a Sunday in August, and I am up before anyone else.

This time of year that is rare. In a couple weeks we’ll be back to 6 am alarms and classes and all that crap, which is why I try to take advantage of sleeping in. But last night was humid, which means this morning it is damp. Which, when coupled with the box fan in the window and the oscillating fan at the foot of the bed, things got chilly. Then there are the kittens who grow restless. Regardless, I’m up.

Our house has a huge back deck and a farmer’s porch in the front. The other day, I took a break from painting my daughter’s bathroom and most of the second floor to get the mail. That day it was sunny and dry and cool and I looked at the porch. I thought: When was the last time I sat there?

This morning, I decided to sit there. With my coffee. It was quiet and cool and still. A slight breeze curled the flag, a replica of the colonial Rhode Island Regimental flag, the blue anchor with the banner HOPE folded and unfolded itself.

“Everything is simple,” I thought. Birds fly, squirrels forage, kittens tap at the screen door wondering where I’ve gone to. Simple. The morning flows around itself oblivious to anything outside of it. Some where off in the distance a hawk calls and hunts.


“And we could have all this,” she said. “And we could have everything and everyday we make it more impossible.”  

This line from Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants has always stuck with me. Embedded inside the dialogue is the idea of life as self-inflicted. Whatever we possess, whatever we’re enduring, whatever we are feeling — we’re doing it to ourselves.

We complicate our lives beyond belief concerned with idealisms and expectations. We complicate the lives of others with our assumptions of who they are and who they ought to be,

We read into situations. We talk ourselves in and out of god knows what. We take bits of microscopic information and turn tiny fragments into an entire universe of thought, emotion and sensation.


Because we’re essentially afraid.

We’re afraid of being let down, of letting others down or projecting some form of ourselves into the world that fails to fit the expectations of those around us.

As the girl in Hemingway’s story says, “… we could have everything and everyday we make it more impossible.”

Instead of accepting things as we find them, or seeing situations for what they are, we endeavor to re-shape them to suit some ideal.

Don’t misinterpret this to mean that growth and change are not durable by products of how we live. If we choose to live blindly, then we’ll be mired. If we choose to practice differently, then things line up.

“Alright. But you’ve got to realize –“
“I realize,” the girl said.. “Can’t we maybe stop talking?”


Maybe our problem is language. Perhaps we talk too much.

We often, desperately try to find the words to clean up messy situations, offer insight or explanations, but many times language hardly reflects what what’s actually happening inside. That’s the ultimate goal isn’t it: to accurately put words to feeling, express those feelings and make them know? Too bad it doesn’t always work.

Communication is a struggle. That’s what manifests between the American and the Girl in Hemingway’s short story. Actually it shows up in almost everything he wrote

Maybe, the girl is right. Maybe there’s a point where talking should stop and “feeling” begin. Maybe we just aren’t feeling our way deeply enough. A former Sensei of mine used to train Aikido with me early in the morning. Groggy, on the mat before dawn we’d move through techniques taking ukemi for each other. He always  knew when I’d woken up because the technique would suffer. “Think less, feel more,” he’d say, and on occasion he’d add, “Let the mind sleep in order to wake up the senses.”

We think we know what we’re looking at, but do we?

We relegate people, places and ideas to neatly drawn columns allowing us to catalogue each in our less than nuanced minds.

We create our worlds through the perceptions that we hold, and when we “read into” rather than “interpret” our understanding can be found lacking. Maybe that’s why many see Hemingway’s works as “minimalist” — life pruned back to the bones containing only the essentials.

Yes, perhaps everything is simple because the hills really do look like white elephants. Yet that cannot be enough so we complicate it all too much.

As the quiet morning fades, the bees show up to work over the blooming Pee Gee Hydrangea tree. A bird drinks from the bird bath and the hawk continues its short, sharp screech. Each focused on their survival issuing little to no complaints about the effort involved.

Updated: August 23, 2017 — 8:05 am


  1. This is what life is about….

    1. Thanks for saying so… I appreciate it.

  2. I love your thoughtful pieces. I like to over think and so I can spin out on this brain candy for hours. And have. And will . Thanks.

    1. Hope you enjoy whatever it shakes loose… if anything. Thanks Carol.

  3. ‘These wounds are all self imposed, life’s no disaster.’ The lyrics of James are probably a little less profound than Hemingway, but I always loved that line!

    1. Profundity is where each of us finds it. If it sticks, then it sticks and who cares really about the source. Faith and wisdom — neither one can be explained despite our attempts to do so. For what it’s worth I agree with James completely.

  4. I started a blog post the other day about standing in our own way, but you’ve summed it up pretty brilliantly, particularly that last line. Not to bring down the mood, but I had a friend pass recently who lost his leg to cancer at 4, and passed away at 44 as a long, LONG term result of the chemo he had as a kid in the 70s, and I never heard him complain about anything. He had the best sense of humor and approached life without complaint, accomplishing a lot despite numerous health setbacks. This is exactly what I needed to read right now <3 thanks

    1. I’m glad it spoke to you. And I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s passing. He sounds like an incredible person and I appreciate you sharing this with everyone. Thanks Tony.

  5. I like that, a point where we should stop talking and let feeling begin. So simple and yet so hard for some, because the feeling part is too hard for them

    1. No kidding. Then the trick becomes how not to let the feeling part overwhelm you. Ah, this being human crap is a lot of damn work…

Comments are closed.

The Plagued Parent © 2014 Frontier Theme
%d bloggers like this: