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The Elephants

5 min

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Some people know my story, or a version of it.

Here's what really happened:

In 2006, my Dad died. He had a massive and completely unexpected heart attack.

He was out mowing the lawn. He had maybe a minute of consciousness after it hit. He spent that minute staring up at a clear blue summer sky, whispering. We never found out what about.

This was the first profoundly destabilizing event in my life. Everyone experiences these, but I didn't feel ready.

I spent the next two years fumbling. I lived with my girlfriend and pretended to be normal. I worked at Starbucks and and as a substitute teacher. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Eventually my girlfriend broke up with me. This was the second profoundly destabilizing event of my life. Everyone experiences these, but I didn't feel ready.

My girlfriend broke the news in the evening and I was gone by the next afternoon. I ran away as quickly as possible. I internalized everything. I replayed the scene in my head.

I said nothing.

I saw no one.

Eventually I found an apartment and tried to rebuild my life.

It felt a lot harder than I thought it should. Then I realized:

I didn't know what my life was supposed to look like.

How can you build something if you don't know what it's supposed to be?

I stopped going out. I kept the blinds closed. I paced a lot. I couldn't focus.

Eventually, I did what most suicidal people do.

It didn't take.


How can you build something if you don't know what it's supposed to be?

That's the question that matters.

Here's the answer:

One piece at a time.

It's hard for me to relate to the person I was then.

I wasn't me, the me I am today.

There was so much rebuilding in between then and now. So much work. So much struggle. It's hard to imagine the times before all that.

So - how do you rebuild?

In the dark.

And small, seemingly-insignificant piece by small, seemingly-insignificant piece.

It was during this time that I started my own business and resolved to never work for anyone else again.

It was during this time that I recorded and released some of my favorite music.

It was during this time that I addressed my social anxieties and fear of conflict.

It was during this time that I learned to control my eating and started taking care of my body.

It was during this time that I married the girl who broke up with me.

I am not saying I figured it all out.

I didn't.

But if I hadn't been forced to build - to pick up those tools and get started - I don't know where I'd be today.

I told my story at the beginning of this letter not because I feel sorry for myself (I don't), or to convince you to feel bad for me (you shouldn't).


In 1959, Eugène Ionesco wrote a play called "Rhinoceros."

In the play, the inhabitants of a small French town slow transform into Rhinoceroses.

Eventually, only the main character remains unchanged.

He watches in frustration and horror as the people he once loved, worked and lived with rampage destroy everything around them.

Rhinoceros is usually read as a critique of the rise of Fascism, but it's more than that.

Ionesco said:

"Humanity is besieged by certain diseases, physiologically and organically, but the spirit too is periodically besieged by certain diseases. You discovered a disease of the 20th century, which could be called after my famous play, rhinoceritis. For a while, one can say that a man is rhinocerised by stupidity or baseness. But there are people—honest and intelligent—who in their turn may suffer the unexpected onset of this disease, even the dear and close ones may suffer...It happened to my friends. That's why I left Romania."

It isn't only fascist thugs that turn into rhinoceroses.

It's everyone.

We turn into rhinoceroses when we engage with abstractions instead of people; political parties instead of people; memes instead of ideas.

We become so detached from reality that we can't communicate.

It's an age of Rhinos, an age of rampage, of a deep and unforgiving certainty.

We know we want to change it.

But how?

How can you build something if you don't know what it's supposed to be?


“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant – the only harmless great thing.”
― John Donne
“Elephants love reunions. They recognize one another after years and years of separation and greet each other with wild, boisterous joy. There’s bellowing and trumpeting, ear flapping and rubbing. Trunks entwine.”
― Jennifer Richard Jacobson, Small as an Elephant

I told my story because it was that experience that taught me an important lesson:

Even in the darkest of times, we can get better.

Let's talk about Elephants.

People have long felt a kinship between humans and elephants. Elephants seem to be just this side of the (perhaps imaginary) dividing line between human and animal.

The Elephant protects its own. It is pro-social. It is both compassionate and strong.

Here's the thing:

The world feels like it's out of control.

I know you feel it. I do, too.

The gyre is widening, and we don't know how to stop it.

We feel like we're supposed build something, do something...but what?

Here's the thing:

You can just pick up your tools, whatever they are, and get started.

Ben Hunt, of Epsilon Theory:

"I would no more give you an Answer than I would infect you with a virus. Because that’s what every top-down, political Answer is, a contagious virus that attacks the mind rather than the body. A contagious virus that cripples human will and human autonomy.
An Answer is not the solution. An Answer is the problem. An Answer is the disease."

This isn't about listening to me because I know better. I don't.

It's about listening to yourself.

It's about building what only you can build, whatever that is.

it's about committing to a process, not an end.

I can't tell you what to do.

But maybe I can help you find some tools that can help.

Maybe I can help you contribute in the way only you can.

And then...

You to help others do the same.

I want you to help me build more Elephants.

I want to meet you and know that we share that goal.

To reunite in a shared reality, trunks entwined.

How can you build something if you don't know what it's supposed to be?

You know the answer.

One elephant at a time.

One blog at a time.

One song at a time.

One person at a time.






It's an honor to be with you.



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