Let me start you with a story.
White elephants have long been regarded in Southeast Asia as wonderful, holy animals, which deserved the best treatment, for they were sacred and a symbol that the kingdom was blessed with peace and power. As a rule, only monarchs had them as pets, and they kept them in splendour and spent lavish amounts housing, feeding and tending them. A white elephant was seen as a symbol of wealth and opulence.
And yet, the white elephant could be a burden. A king could ruin one of his courtiers by making them a gift of the sacred beast, for so wonderful was it; so valuable and so beloved as a symbol of all it stood for, that the courtier was honour bound to maintain the beast in the manner henceforth funded by the king. If he dishonoured the holy beast by keeping it in any less opulence than its status deserved, woe betide him.
So as well as blessing and wonder and holiness and special-ness and loveliness, the white elephant could be a burden, foisted upon the unsuspecting.
Today I feel like that white elephant.
I feel like it a lot of days, actually, but particularly whilst I have a bad cold, the stress of an upcoming house move, the constant nagging of infertility (and who knows where we are with that) and a (probably very accurate, if rather too-close-to-the-bone-for-comfort) sermon this morning that suggested that sometimes praying for the wrong things (such as wanting children) will mean they remain unanswered, and praying for the right thing (God's perfect will to happen, and who KNOWS what that might be - not me, that's for damn sure) is what will get the heavenly channels of communication up and running (I give up, God - do what you want) those feelings of being a burden have risen to the surface and made themselves apparent in a (frankly rather embarrassing but utterly uncontrollable) big, wobbly, inconvenient fit of weeping, which took three members of my wonderful family to stop what they were doing, rally round and try to mop up.
I'm sure if I went and lay down on a therapist's couch and poured out my troubled heart, they'd find a way to link it to my childhood (which, yes, had a large dose of (mostly) emotional abuse throughout, with a side helping of bullied-at-school, but let's face it - lots of people go through worse and come out better (and to be fair, I daresay there are people who also go through better and turn out worse - that's just the way of it, but I'm being selfish here; it's my blog and for once I feel entitled to go on for as long as I want about whatever I want: the beauty and the tragedy of the internet in a nutshell, that is.) so I figure it has to do with me as a person.
What ways, then, are there of measuring a person's worth? The following are those I could think of off the top of my head - I daresay there are others. Let's get jargon-y and 'unpack' them. Feel free to keep reading - even if you are not edified or improved by it, it will take up part of your day, for which you can thank me (it may even inspire you to think of ways your time could have been better spent - you can do those things next...) - there's also a good bit at the very end. And no, you can't skip ahead; be dedicated to the cause of reading for reading's sake if nothing else and imbibe the whole lot, willya?
Academic success - I got my "5 A-C grades at GCSE, which is all employers seek". I'm currently on track to gain a very good mark for my current course, which is still (in academic terms) worth less than qualifications I gained previously. I'm purely doing this course because I enjoy it, and I'm grateful that it's being paid for by my lovely family, otherwise I'd still be working.
Financial success - I have no credit cards. That's as good as it gets. We don't actually *owe* any money, but that's only because Husby's family and my family are too nice, too generous and aren't asking for their ongoing contributions back.
Career success - I started a stopgap job as a teenager and stayed for nearly a decade. Then I left to do this course. Still don't know what I Want To Do When I Grow Up. I'm beginning to think it doesn't matter and I just need to Do Something.
People love them - Yes, lots, because for all my self doubt, I do have plenty of endearing qualities. I'm (usually) reliable, I can make people laugh, I try to help out, I try to be nice (I sometimes succeed, though Husby may suggest I tend to exclude him from the group of people I try to be nice to, particularly if you catch him at a bad moment).
God loves them - well, this one's fairly easy. As I understand things, God made me and loves me *because* He made me, not for anything I can bring to the table. Which is His prerogative.
Creative ability - I have some, people seem to like it, I usually enjoy using it, but I feel this may be a sub-section in 'Financial success', in which case it qualifies as nowt, or 'People love them', in which case it's another thing I can do which brings people pleasure.
Good looks - You know those people in shopping malls who give free samples of make-up or a go with the hair tongs or money off in fancy clothes shops? Their gaze glides over me as if I was never there. Nuff said. I even used my (what was it I used to get when I asked 'Am I pretty?'...striking, that's the one) 'striking' looks as a measure of husbandworthiness, figuring that the man who loved me in spite of them was clearly someone I could consider spending the rest of my life with - if I found that bloke, I was onto a winner. Ding!
Marriage success - It's 2 1/2 years in and we're still together. We still struggle with coping with each others' weaknesses and not being overbearing (particularly me) when it comes to what we know are our own strengths, but I'm not sure that ever changes. I've had nice compliments from very close friends about what a good husband I've found, and I tend to agree. To my knowledge, no one (without a vested interest) has complimented Husby on what a good wife he's found. That pretty much sums up my take on it.
They are useful to other people - Yep, this one's ticked. This is what I try hardest at (when I try hard at anything - despite some effort on my part and reassurances from people I care about (admittedly, again, those with a vested interest; namely family and friends) professionals have historically, consistently let me know that I'm lazy, too slow and don't try hard enough, be they employers/teachers/tutors/whatever)
They have good kids - We may never know. I'd like to think it could happen one day, but we have good friends who are going through the adoption process now, and hearing some of the things the social workers are grilling them over, I'm not convinced we'd pass muster as a couple (mostly due to my childhood experiences, the way they impacted me as a teenager and, apparently, now) but perhaps today isn't the day for me to think about passing muster for anything.
So after my big, wet, wobble, I arrived home to the following, packaged in a lovely email from WonderAunty (I did check if I could quote her)
If you're doing a bloggery-doo-dah then make sure you reflect the following VERY IMPORTANT FACTS - you are:
- the best thing sliced bread (if not before sliced bread, or sliced bread itself!)
- the best oldest niecy-wiecy, daughter, sister, aunt
- the lovely couple with the lovely Joe
- loved and lovely, giving, kind and generous, bright and funny, enriching our lives every day
- contributing beyond measure to family life all round in every way
- pillar of the community with school governor, youth work, caring about the environment, taking part in all sorts of things that enrich others' lives
- brilliant at whatever you do, and creative
- a star at work (loved by children, parents, and invaluable to boss) and on your course - distinction level all round dahling
- in a place at the moment with * loads * going on and a cold, so need a good dose of whisky, a hot water bottle and an early night
- that you are a beautiful being, loved by all of us and by God, and you are in his hands, and in our hearts
She then double-checked that I believed her, seeing as I know her to be a Person of Good Judgement (which I agree with utterly) and I believe she believes those things.
So I guess, seeing as I must accede to the truth that this is her viewpoint; that she sees me as valuable. As do others, because they've told me so.
And I don't think they're liars or bad judges of character or conspiring against me, they are truthful, honest, kind people.
I'm reminded of a snippet of dialogue in Ally McBeal, written by David E. Kelley
Ally: ...you always seem so happy.
Elaine: Well, happy is easy. You act happy; people see you as happy and you see yourself through their eyes: you feel happy. It doesn't work for lonely...but happy's easy.
Which brings me to this conundrum - what worth is it, when the whole world might see you as valuable, yet you still don't feel it?
You're right back in white elephant territory, my friend, and it's increasingly apparent that it's a tough ol' territory to get out of.
Bell me if you know where to find a map.
In other news, I had a cold-fuelled dream earlier about red squirrels (didn't I promise you a good bit at the end?). Our friend Matt was at his house, preparing to show some guinea pigs to a group of people. I was there too. He put about 12 of them into a tupperware cereal holder, which I told him he couldn't do, as it was against the Animal Welfare Act. He went to put them into something more appropriate, while his housemate (a big bloke with long blond hair, who I don't know in Real Life, and who certainly isn't Matt's housemate) came to take a family of red squirrels out of the cage to drown them in vinegar, because they were costing too much to upkeep. I rescued one of the babies and spent a frustrated few dream-minutes trying to put on my shoes to leave before the big bloke came back, whilst trying to hold onto a wriggly, baby squirrel.
Matt returned, with the guinea pigs in something more appropriate and I told him what had happened and what I was doing. He told me he'd make me a cardboard box to help me, and I took an acorn, a sunflower seed and a brazil nut from his stash to feed the baby squirrel.
On my way along the road, the squirrel started trying to bite my fingers, so I gave it the acorn, but it ate half and dropped it. I stopped to try to find the half, but it had utterly disappeared, so I tried to give it the sunflower seed. The squirrel then jumped down from my shoulder and helped to look for the acorn, but couldn't find it, so brought me a leaf instead, as a thank-you present for trying to look after it. It then took the sunflower seed.
The squirrel was very small (it was a baby though) and its fur was much deeper red than a normal red squirrel - almost purple, really. Its hair was also long and silky, rather than short.
The dream changed, then, to something about my parents being in our bathroom looking at the view from the window (there isn't one in RL) and my Dad having a can of woodstain to do *something* with...