I know now that a white elephant is a rare thing. It means good luck. In many Eastern Asian cultures the more white elephants a king has, the richer and happier he is. A white elephant is a precious thing to be cared for and nurtured. But when I was a middle schooler and was called Sunil’s white elephant, it didn’t seem so positive.
I met Sunil at summer camp. He was from India. A bright-eyed and happy kid, Sunil was fun to be around and we became friends quickly. But when he started referring to me directly and to others as his white elephant, I was offended. He seemed to follow me around and tried to always be near me. He sat by me at meals, came to my cabin, and waited for me after campfire. In hindsight he clearly liked me but i was oblivious. He was, after all, referring to me as an elephant, so why would i think he liked me? He tried to explain what he meant but being referred to as an elephant of any kind was just not a good thing in my 13-year old mind. And I became embarrassed and pulled away from him.
Now, knowing what I know about white elephants and people in general, I realize he was paying me a wonderful compliment! And I feel bad for him and for us because I never really gave him the chance to explain what he was trying to say and I never gave myself the chance to fully get to know him.
So he saw my 13-year old self as a precious and rare thing to be nurtured and cared for and treasured. I wish I had realized that then! It took me years to realize these things about myself. I wonder how different I would be today if I had realized those valuable truths back then!
It just might be the most beautiful name anyone has called me: a white elephant.