Monday, December 19, 2016

Today: a fictional toad and a real one

“I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.” — Frog from Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel  

TODAY IS a grim day. This afternoon the Electoral College affirmed Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president. 

I intended to wear all black today in mourning for the country I thought I knew, but in a few minutes Paul and I will drive to the Des Moines domestic violence shelter to watch Santa pass out the 108 wrapped presents that Paul and I delivered earlier today: new pajamas and fuzzy blankets for the women and children in hiding there. 

Santa of course is really all of the people who have donated money, new blankets, new pajamas and time so that Paul and I could make sure these gifts found their way into Santa's sleigh. So instead of the black crepe I feel like wearing, I'm in a bright red blazer with shiny, gold buttons in order to look as festive as possible.

And likewise, I won't inflict my deep sorrow on you, dear reader, in today's HLSS post. I will instead share a sweet, poignant piece I've saved 
from the The New Yorker for you since May.


By Colin Stokes   

May 31, 2016

On a cool autumn day, a frog and a toad awake in their separate houses to find that their yards are filled with fallen leaves. The frog and toad (conveniently named Frog and Toad) see each other every day, and are particularly synchronized: rather than clean his own yard, each decides to go to the other’s house to rake up the leaves there as a kind surprise for his friend. But, unbeknown to either of them, after the raking is done and as they are walking back to their respective homes, a wind comes and undoes all of their hard work, leaving their yards as leaf-strewn as they were at the beginning. Neither has any way of knowing of the other’s helpful act, and neither knows that his own helpful act has been erased. But Frog and Toad both feel satisfied believing that they have done the other a good turn.

This story, called “The Surprise,” appears in “Frog and Toad All Year,” an illustrated book of children’s stories by Arnold Lobel that was first published in 1976. Its mirrored structure is simple yet ingenious: the gust of wind disrupts the course of what might have been a more traditional and didactic children’s tale about two friends who benefit from mutual gestures of kindness. At the end of the story, Frog and Toad’s altruism has amounted to nothing more than the feeling they each got from it. 

What does a child learn from this? That doing good deeds can make the doer feel good, even if those deeds go unrecognized? That those to whom we feel closest will never fully know how much we care for them? That frogs and toads shouldn’t be trusted with basic garden work? Lobel’s ending, “That night Frog and Toad were both happy when they each turned out the light and went to bed,” is a satisfying conclusion that nonetheless makes the mind roam. 

One wonders if the friends will meet the next day and ask each other expectantly whether cleaning up their yards had been difficult, only to be flummoxed when they heard that, yes, it was. Instead, like a sitcom that starts each episode with its narrative slate wiped clean, the next story in the book finds Toad waiting anxiously for Frog to arrive at his house for Christmas Eve dinner. After Toad imagines all of the most dramatic things that could have happened to Frog on his walk over, and prepares to set out to rescue him, Frog shows up at Toad’s door with a gift in hand. He was late because he’d been wrapping it. “ ‘Oh, Frog,’ said Toad, ‘I am so glad to be spending Christmas with you.’ ”

Click here to read the entire story.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the happy thoughts, for the sweet ideas, for the generosity of some of our fellow humans. It helps to push away the sadness, fear and loathing. It reminds us that all is perhaps not lost.