Free the Rhino
- a dream, a boulder and a CHARGE
It was a normal, ordinary wash day. I hugged a large load of brights to my chest in the cramped basement laundry room of my condo building and with one arm awkwardly reached out to open the lid. With a start and a scream, I dropped my armload of dirty clothes and stared. There was a rhinoceros in my washing machine!
How in the world! I wondered, flabbergasted. The big tough-skinned beast was spin- cycled flat against the wall of the washing drum. I looked into its one visible eye. The rhino stared back and blinked. It was alive. I woke up.
I sat bolt-upright in bed, the blinking rhino eye stuck in my sleep-hazed mind, and shook my head to dispel the dream-fog from my brain. How did the two-toed ungulate get into my clothes washer? And how in the world would I get it out?
The rhino had to be freed. The rhino was me.
The dream came to me a few months into the pandemic. The world as we knew it was upside down. I was upside down. Were you, upside down, too? Like a multicolored Rubik’s cube held in the palm of my hand, I scrutinized the strange dream from all sides, obsessively. Over and over, I turned it every which way, but couldn’t see a way to extricate my metaphorical self from the metaphorical washer. I, indeed, felt paralyzed. The word ‘intractable’ came to mind. Intractable, meaning difficult, hard, unmanageable, unruly. I had an intractable situation on my hands and there was no obvious, let alone easy, way out. I was stuck. To stuck to un-stick.
In the fall of 2021, I had broken my right wrist. A few months later I developed frozen shoulder. Pain was my constant companion for almost a year. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t create. Exhausted and depressed as hell, I stopped publishing my Substack newsletter. My big beautiful beast self was hog-tied, trapped, unable to dig her feet into the ground, get traction, paw, stamp, CHARGE! In my misery I continued to dwell on the dream.
A month ago, on a whim, I bought a small plastic model of a rhinoceros for $12.95 from Amazon and sat the little figure on the desk next to my laptop. About 6 “ long and 3 “ tall, it is modeled after the Indian rhinoceros with the characteristic armor-plated body covering made of layers of protective collagen. The rhinoceros’s horn, by the way, is, also, made of collagen, not bone. I stared at the figurine a lot and imagined that it stared back, the tiny eyes painted in such a way as to suggest movement. They appeared to watch me as I sat at my desk unable to write.
There are five types of rhinos: the white, black, Indian, Javanese and Sumatran, located on different parts of the globe. They have poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell and hearing. They are vegan. Some types nibble leaves and twigs and other types eat grass. They are susceptible to sunburn and wallow in mud for a layer of sun protection. Rhinos are the largest and fastest of all mammals. A mature male Indian rhino weighs between 5500 and 7100 pounds and can run as fast as 34 mph. They are naturally peace-loving, but when startled will fearlessly charge first and ask questions later.
There must be a million reasons why humans get stuck, lose their ‘charge’. Maybe there are as many reasons as there are people, that would be 7.753 billion reasons. I bet very few of the reasons are rational. I bet most of the reasons are fear-based. Mine are. My fears couldn’t care less about rational argument, they only respond to TLC, patient endurance and, sometimes, humor. The presence of the little rhino on my desk each morning made me smile. A glimmer of hope flickered in my heart. Could I charge again, I wondered? What would it take?
It was my twin sister who reminded me of the simple elements required for change as outlined in some of the 12-step recovery literature, those elements being awareness, acceptance and action. As we walked along a pristine saltwater beach up on Whidbey Island recently, I shared with her - again - my tale of woe, my physical pain, depression, dreams in the distance, seemingly out of reach. I grimaced as I listened to myself go on and on, the tone of my voice tight, frustrated, frightened sounding like a trapped creature. She listened patiently. She loves me.
To get down to the beach, we had had to navigate a series of large rock steps at the bottom of which was a man leaning on a peavey¹ pole. He was dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and denim jeans with suspenders and wore heavy leather work boots. Sweat ran down his face. He pointed to a very large flattish boulder and explained how he was moving it back into place at the bottom of the rock stairway. Severe winter storms pound and erode the west side of the island, he explained, displacing huge logs and rocks and contributing to bank erosion and hillside slides. He has to re-organize the wreckage every year.
My sister and I saw what he was up against. Aside from a strong back and an obvious will to win, his only tools for the task were his peavey pole and a lever fashioned from a big driftwood board. We got out of his way, left him to his labor and headed down the deserted beach. The tide was at ebb. The water was calm. The sun was out.
Awareness, acceptance, action. We walked and talked.
Sometimes we welcome reality and sometimes we balk. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Denial, distorted-thinking, fear block our ability to advance. Wishful-thinking has us believe that some outside force, circumstance or person will solve our problem or make it easier, someday, somehow. These are the guises of fear, so tricky, sneaky, destructive. So human.
Actually, I have a lot in common with the tough rhino spirit. The rhinoceros is a leaf-nibbler. I am a vegan. The rhino is at heart a pacifist. I, too, favor the peaceful path. The rhinoceros goes for it, full blast, when it charges, no obstruction too big to tackle. I don’t move 34 mph, but I have been called fearless now and then by people who know me and I have been known to throw myself into things with a don’t-look-back attitude. But I get hung up, too, like the rhino in the washing machine. And it is very, very humbling. I had a boyfriend once who summed me up as having the small fears of my mother (she had many) and the great ambitions of my grandmother (she had many). It’s a hell of an inner conflict! I am my worst enemy.
When my sister and I returned to the beach steps, the intrepid rock mover was still there. He showed us how much he had accomplished in the hour and a half since we first passed by him. He had moved the boulder maybe three inches. We congratulated him enthusiastically on his progress and walked up the steep steps back to the car. I had no doubt that he would accomplish his backbreaking task eventually. Why? Because he was willing to do what was necessary. He was committed, no matter what.
And that was when I realized that I could free the rhino if I tried, really tried. I simply had to commit to whatever it took to free the beast, move the rock, do the work. Deep down, had I hoped for a different answer, an easier softer way? What a fool, I thought to myself. What a fool.
Back home I sat down at my desk and got to work. I had an essay to get published. I remembered the man and the boulder on the beach. The sweat.
I glanced over at the plastic rhino. It gave me a wink and I charged!
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Dear Karin, so glad to be on your mailing list! Thanks for this.
Karin, love the image/metaphor of moving a rock with a peavey, 3 inches of progress in an hour or two. So great! Count on me to be an appreciative and grateful reader each time.