It’s that time of year again when we rack our brains for gift ideas for those we love, care about, and tolerate at family gatherings. It’s when we ask ourselves the hard questions, like “how many socks are too many socks?” and “does anyone actually eat those Pepperidge Farms sausage gift baskets that have been sitting out at the mall?”
Over the years I’ve tried to reflect on what my favorite Christmas gifts have been. I loved a pair of oversized flamingo slippers my mom bought for me when I was a preteen. They were so wide that I had to waddle as I walked, but I loved how they hugged my feet. As a girl in Buffalo, those flamingos spoke to my tropical-loving heart. (It’s no surprise I ended up living in Florida). And they were weird, like me, so I liked them.
One year my dear Polish friends gifted me a small container of dried mushrooms that they had picked up on a recent trip home. I don’t even know if they knew how much I loved mushrooms. I have a mild obsession with both eating them, looking at them, and dressing up like them for Halloween. What meant even more to me, was the fact that they thought of me at a random time, saw something, and thought, “Let’s get this for Jill.” It was like a flamingo slipper for my heart, warm and fuzzy.
The Gift I’ll Never Forget
But the gift that stands out to me the most is an elephant. Not a giant live pachyderm. That’s an inappropriate gift. It was a small metal elephant silhouette ornament in a little muslin bag.
I am lucky to have the group of friends I have. Really lucky. Friendship and connection have always been hard for me. With the exception of a few close college friends, the majority of my friendships have mostly waded through superficial waters with only a few deep-dive conversations. Entering the wildly wacky world of homeschooling brought me a new circle, and they came with scuba gear on!
The gift of that elephant was perfectly timed in my life. I had come out to myself during a therapy session that I was a lesbian and could finally love and accept that part of me. (Yay!). But the following months were grueling as I came out to my husband, my partner of nearly 20 years that I cared for dearly. We both knew that ending our marriage was our best course of action, even if it was the hardest. We also knew that we wanted to give our family one last holiday season of unity before I dropped a giant glitter bomb of gayness on my world.
Pineapple Vodka and Elephant Behaviors
At my friend’s holiday party that night, surrounded by a small circle of my closest pals, I tried to put the stress and secrets of what was happening in my personal life out of my mind. I wanted to eventually share my truth with my friends and let them in to my new world, but there was still the worry that I was opening myself to potential danger. It didn’t matter how much of an ally someone was, coming out (especially at that point) was always terrifying. I hoped to glide through the party with nothing but spectacular dance moves and my usual cheese ball humor.
Before diving into the evening's events, which involved the deadly combination of alcohol and Truth or Dare, my friend Jenny handed us each a small muslin bag with the elephant ornament inside. With each ornament came a small note.
“In the wild, female elephants are known as fierce protectors. They literally form a circle around sisters who are hurting or grieving. And often, they will kick dirt up around her to mask the scent of suffering...in turn, keeping her safe from predators.
And yet, we are the same. This is what we do. This is who we are. And this is who we are meant to be for each other. We all have elephants in our lives. Sometimes we are the ones in the middle, and sometimes we're on the outside kicking up dirt with fierce, fierce love. But the circle remains.”
She could not have known what that elephant and that message meant to me at that moment. I was hurt and grieving. I knew where I would be in their circle. It was the reassurance I needed.
Sure enough, due to jalapeno pineapple vodka and my lack of poker face, I ended up coming out to all of my friends that night. I was met with more love and support than I could have imagined. They were my circle, and that night they gave me the protection I needed to forge ahead in my journey. No gift has ever been more perfectly times or touched me more.
Not Everything Comes from the Amazon
The moral of the story is we never know what another is going through, but with nearly everyone there is an unseen struggle. Being able to acknowledge that we don’t know what another is going through, but we are able to show up for them, may be one of the greatest gifts we can give. And when we don’t have the words to say that, at least we have elephants.
Need more great gift ideas for the LGBTQ+? Check out my list of recommended reading for those in the community and allies.
*(Note: This is an affiliate link that I’ll make a few dimes off of, just like the fabulous reading material on this page. Thanks for helping support creatives.)