The Elephant In The Room

by Michael Simmons on Aug 8, 2013

elephant-in-the-roomThe first time I was ever in a limousine was on the way to my dad’s funeral.

At the funeral home, about 20 people, most of whom I had never met, sat on foldout chairs. A minister who had never met my dad talked about God and how my dad was going to a better place.

As the minister spoke, people started crying. At 8 years old, I didn’t know how to react.

A heavyset woman sitting two seats to my right motioned for me to sit on her lap.

I looked at my mom for guidance. I felt uncomfortable, but my mom nodded her head in approval. I slid over. The woman pulled me into her body, gave me a handful of tissues, rocked slowly, and told me that it was ok to cry.
I started to cry deeply and uncontrollably.

As people left the service, many gave me their condolences and told me that I was now the man of the house. That was a major concept for someone just learning how to add and subtract double-digit numbers.

Afterwards, we went to my Aunt’s house for fried chicken to celebrate his life.
We later went to the cemetery. I thought we were going to bury him, but instead, I was taken to a small building and was shown the urn that held his ashes. Everything that had physically been my dad was now in a small box in a wall of what looked like PO Boxes.
The experience was confusing, frustrating, illogical, fascinating, and thought provoking.

My dad was 33 years old, and he had died of lung cancer only a few months after diagnosis.

How does one come to terms with death? How does it shape how we come to terms with life?

Life is just as full of mixed emotions and uncertainty as death is.

We’re on a spinning rock going 66,611 mph around a star that is part of a universe with a potentially infinite number of other stars.

When we’re born, we inherit geography, genes, religion, social system, and government which have been evolving over millennia.

Our life is fleeting. We may live a long life or we could die tomorrow from something that is completely out of our control.

How do we make meaning?

That is the elephant in the room that almost no one talks about.

Most people live only in the context of what they’re given and what’s immediately obvious to the people around them.

The elephant is at the center of everything we do. Even a small change to the elephant in our life will trickle out to day-to-day decisions, and have a dramatic impact.

The risk of not talking about the elephant is that we spend our whole life trying to efficiently climb up the wrong ladder.


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I'm the co-founder of Empact, one of the leading entrepreneurship education organizations in the world. I'm obsessed with understanding how we all can lead meaningful lives that have a positive social impact. I love probing into the truth of how we experience life. I believe that challenges are what make us grow the most, and I openly share my experiences. Continue reading…