My friend Mischief is eating an elephant, and all I can do is stand by with napkins and hot sauce.
I just recently polished off one last bowl of elephant stew, thin and bitter. I was moving things around in the freezer, pondering what nourishes me, what was worth keeping and what I would discard, when someone made a comment. When I turned back to what I was doing, I had a Tupperware bowl dated from July 2009 in my hand.
So I warmed it up and ate it, every salty drop of broth. The meat is all gone, the vegetables reduced to mushy bits at the bottom of the bowl and lingering ghosts in the watery fluid.
There are books out there about eating elephants, ranging from the classic cookbook about the seven stages of steaks, roasts, chops, burgers, sausages, stews, and organ meats. There are professionals who will advise you to start at the tail, or at the trunk. There are others who will give you pills if you take "too long" to eat your elephant, or if you're eating too fast and might choke.
We all eat an elephant at least once in our lives. Any time we give our hearts, we buy a future in an elephant. And that call option will come due; no way to sell that back. But elephants come in different sizes, and you can't predict what the market will have on any given day.
Grandpa becoming old and tired one day may produce a sweet pink cherubic elephant that yields a roast, a couple of sandwiches, and some tetrazzini. A beloved pet crossing the Rainbow Bridge may create meals for months. No one can tell you what size your elephant is, or how long you should be there at the table.
I want to tell Mischief to ignore the quacking of the duck-billed platitudes. They mean well, they've eaten elephants before. I want to tell her that it's okay to leave the table to go have pizza and birthday cake with her friends. I want to tell her that chosing to do so does not mean she's giving up the project. That she doesn't need to listen to those who tell her she should march herself back into the kitchen and keep chewing on the rubbery bristly grey hide. That she doesn't have to ladle mignonette and salt onto the meat and sit there until she's totally done with the whole thing in one marathon sitting.
But that's just as much quackery as the rest of them--it's nothing more than my understanding of eating an elephant. Mischief has to eat her elephant on her own--I can't do it for her.
So I offer her napkins to wipe her face with, garlic wing sauce to make it taste a little better, and I replace her fork when she drops it or throws it in frustration. I do what I can to support her in this endeavor as she sits at the table.
Eating one bite at a time. Chewing, swallowing.