'The Frog' by Martin Day
The River flowed past smoothly and insistently, swirling and eddying at the edges. From the glistening mud of the bank, the Frog peered through the tall reeds that played to and fro in the current, waving at the wisps of white cloud in the powder blue spring sky. This was the most beautiful and peaceful of days. The River called silently:
“Come join me. Come flow with me. Be one with me.”
The Frog heard it in his heart and agreed.
“What a perfect day for a swim,” he thought, and with that he launched out into the flow. Immediately he could feel the pull of the current that wanted to carry him away. But he was a strong frog and a fine swimmer, and his powerful back legs sent him gliding through the cool invigorating water. He could feel the speed of the River, but he was stronger than the flow. The water tried to beckon him away but only tickled at his smooth muscular body. Had there ever been a more glorious day? He was made to swim and it felt good to be alive. Everything was perfect.
As he arrived at the quiet of the reeds on the far side he was greeted by the sound of cheering, tiny cheering, not so much “hoorays” but more “oohs”. He had admirers; for clinging to the reed-stems, just under the surface, were dozens and dozens of tiny tadpoles. Each one was just a watery black droplet of a body, a black wisp of a tail and puckered lips that called: “Ooh.”
They were clearly impressed by the Frog’s smooth swimming action.
“What’s it feel like to swim, sir?” spoke up one small admirer.
“It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” replied the Frog, clearly enjoying the attention. He had thought that the day couldn’t have been better, but this eager audience was the most welcome icing to his cake.
“How do you do it?” came another small voice. “How do you stop the current from carrying you away?”
“It’s not that hard,” beamed the Frog. “You just have to swim slightly into the current.”
“Could you show us how? Please?”
The Frog wasn’t sure which one had asked that question as they all looked exactly the same, but the tadpoles seemed to be hanging on his every word now, so he was starting to address them as one.
“I think you are all a little young for that kind of open water swimming, but as you grow you will learn.”
“We’d love to learn. Would you be our teacher?” asked one, slightly fatter tadpole. The others murmured tinily in agreement.
The Frog was greatly flattered by the adoration of these little admirers. He liked the idea of passing on his wisdom and knowledge to others and they did seem to be in need of his help. So he pondered how best to teach them.
“It would be far too dangerous for you to swim on your own yet. So maybe we could start by me taking you for a ride on my back?”
“Oh yes, yes that would be fabulous,” chorused the tadpoles.
They all let go of their respective reeds and started wiggling enthusiastically towards the Frog.
“Whoa! One at a time please,” exclaimed the Frog, trying to stamp his authority on the class, as the first of them squirmed up onto his back.
“OK, that’s enough for now,” he said firmly. But by now the Fat Tadpole and two of his friends were already on his back. “Hold tight!”
And with that he pushed off carefully from the shallows. Although he felt a little heavier, his passengers were thrilled by the ride.
“Ooh,” they cooed in chorus. “You should try this,” they called back to the others. “It’s just wonderful.”
As the Frog circled back to the reeds the other tadpoles were so excited that they surged to meet him in a wave of enthusiasm.
“Me next!” they all shouted and streamed up onto his back.
The Frog laughed as he was quickly swamped by his new followers. Their wriggling was quite ticklish. “The poor little things,” he thought. “They really do need someone to take them on-board.” And on-board they were! No longer could the green of the Frog’s back be seen because now was it glistening black with a hundred tadpoles.
“Let’s go again,” shouted the Fat Tadpole and the others cheered.
The Frog, chuckling, turned back towards the River, his every step sinking into the mud.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Go!” came the reply.
As the Frog pushed off again he felt the weight of his new companions pushing him down into the water and then, as the current caught him, he felt himself listing in the water. He suddenly had an awful sinking feeling; for that was indeed what was happening. Quickly he turned back to safety of the reeds and disaster was averted.
“Are you all OK? Did we lose anyone?”
“I think we are all here,” replied the Fat Tadpole, “but that was a bit scary. What a relief to know we were with an expert swimmer and not out in the current by ourselves. You saved us!” and all the tadpoles cheered again.
The Frog was greatly relieved and thought to himself: “It’s a good job I am such a strong swimmer, and a quick thinker too. What would these tadpoles do without me?”
And so the pattern for the next few days and weeks was set. The Frog was established as the Tadpoles’ leader and tutor. The Tadpoles adored him, hung on his every word and spent most of their time safely on his back. The Frog decided that it was really much too dangerous out in the current for the tadpoles. He could teach them how to swim when they were a bit bigger. Until then he would tell them all about swimming: the best strokes, the right technique, the joys of swimming and the dangers of the River. All this took place in the reeds and on the muddy fringe. Although it was a serious responsibility, taking on the welfare of all these young ones, the Frog enjoyed passing on what he knew and having his words valued.
A couple of weeks went by and the Frog, understandably, started to tire of having tadpoles on his back, at his elbows, and under his feet all the time. He longed to swim again, but whenever he moved towards the edge of the reeds the tadpoles were there with him and climbing onto his back. Although they were all getting bigger, they never seemed any closer to swimming for themselves. They now seemed to spend all their time together just talking about swimming, but never actually doing it. So the Frog decided to head inland where the tadpoles wouldn’t follow.
Once out of the water he hopped over the grass and into the dry desert of the scrublands. As he hopped past a small bush, he caught sight of something warty blinking at him.
“Hello there, cousin, what brings you to these parts?”
The brown stranger flexed his thin toes and shuffled to face him.
“Do I know you?” asked the Frog.
“You might not know me, but we’re related.”
“I can’t see how that can be,” scoffed the Frog. “I’m green, shiny and hopping, whereas you are brown, lumpy, and crawling. You must be mistaken.”
“Oh, I don’t think we’re that different really,” said the Toad. “I’ve noticed that, just like me, you spend as little time in the water as possible.”
The Frog was quite taken aback:
“That’s not true! I’m a Frog and swimming’s what I’m all about. I love the water and spend as much time in it as I can.”
“So what are you doing here, in this dustbowl? You won’t find any water here,” pressed the Toad.
“I just needed a little peace and quiet, to be on my own for a while.”
“Ah yes, I’ve seen you with all your little friends.”
“Well I like to think of them as friends, but it seems the friendship is mostly one way. They rely on me to teach them to swim.”
“And how’s that going?”
“Rather slow at the moment. I don’t think they’re quite ready yet. They need to get bit bigger and stronger first.”
The Toad laughed deeply:
“Well if you spend any more time out of the water you’ll be turning my colour. Then you’ll be really browned off,” and he laughed again.
As the Frog turned back towards the River, the words of the Toad bothered him. He didn’t want to become a toad; he was a swimmer after all. Maybe he should try harder with the tadpoles. He needed them to make some progress. Something would have to change.
As he reached the River the tadpoles were calling to him:
“Look, can you see, over there, on the far bank?”
The Frog squinted across the water. There in plain sight was another frog on the other side, his back thick with tadpoles. Immediately the Frog felt self-conscious. That frog had maybe double the number of tadpoles he himself had. Maybe he had done something wrong? Maybe he should have attracted more tadpoles himself? Then, out of his panic, it occurred to him; whilst he was waiting for these tadpoles to grow he could be teaching still more tadpoles. He couldn’t take the ones he had swimming yet anyway, and it would mean more mature tadpoles in the long run. That had to be a good plan. The conversation with the Toad had already slipped from his memory. He hopped down into the muddy River fringe and called the tadpoles together.
“We need more tadpoles to come and join us,” he announced.
The Fat Tadpole was quick to support him:
“Yes, that’s exactly what we need. We should all find other tadpoles and invite them to join us.”
So over the next few days more little tadpoles were added to their number. There was great excitement, and the Frog taught them all he knew about swimming: the best strokes, the right technique, the joys of swimming and the dangers of the River. All the tadpoles cheered. The younger ones learned and the older ones re-learned what they had heard once already. It was a great success. So much so that even more new tadpoles were attracted to the Frog’s teaching. So, just as before, the Frog taught them all he knew about swimming. The youngest ones learned, the older ones re-learned and the oldest ones approved of what was taught. Soon the numbers of their group had exceeded those in the group on the far bank.
The Frog peered out from between the reeds and across the deep water at the group on the far side.
“Life is good,” he said to himself. But even to himself the words sounded hollow. The truth was that he was wearying of the tadpoles’ constant reliance on him. Although they seemed to enjoy his teaching, they didn’t ever seem to want to put it into practice. But he could see no answers to his problems, so he made his way back to the tadpoles. At least they appreciated him; and indeed they did. As he arrived back they swarmed to him and started to wriggle up onto his back. It was then that he felt it; the feeling of little froggy fingers and thumbs digging into his skin!
“They’re growing into frogs,” he thought with horror. “So why on earth can’t they swim yet?”
It was then that the burden of responsibility became too much for him:
“You’ll have to get off,” he snapped at the froglets. “I’m going inland.”
“But can’t you teach us more about swimming?” they pleaded, still clinging on.
“Another time,” said the Frog assertively. But for the first time he hoped there wouldn’t be another time. He shrugged them off and turned his back on his beloved River, not because he didn’t want it, but because they wanted it too. He hopped and hopped and hoped never to return.
Soon he found himself in the dusty scrublands and, when he felt he was far enough away, he sighed.
“I’m so miserable. I carry them all the time. How did this happen?” he wailed. “I never asked for this.”
“Didn’t you?” came the unexpected reply. The Frog looked around. He could see nothing but dusty pebbles. But then one of them blinked and he knew whose voice it had been.
“What do you mean?” he asked the Toad, indignantly.
“It’s the tadpoles you’re talking about isn’t it?” checked the Toad, his bulging throat rippling as he spoke.
“Yes, that’s exactly who I’m talking about. It seems that they are just leaning on me and that’s certainly something I never asked them to do. It was all going fine to start with, but now they are smothering me.”
“I think you’ll find that the start was where it went wrong. That was when you showed your weakness,” asserted the Toad.
“My weakness!” the Frog was taken aback. “Excuse me, but I showed them kindness rather than weakness. I took pity on them. I did them a favour.”
“On the contrary,” scoffed the Toad, “it was them that did you a favour! Didn’t it make you feel important to be needed?”
The Frog was stunned.
“If you had really felt as secure as you’d like to appear you wouldn’t have found their flattery so appealing,” concluded the Toad.
The Frog was bewildered. Could it possibly be true? Had he brought all this on himself?
“But what else could I do?” he pleaded with the Toad. “They needed me; they honestly did.”
“Sure they were vulnerable, and they would have made all sorts of mistakes. But they would have learned from them; and they would have grown up to be Frogs, not stayed as tadpoles all their lives.”
“So should I have just left them to suffer? Are you suggesting I should have been that cruel?”
“The problem, my friend,” said the Toad warmly, “is that you came into the situation from the wrong place. You have been trying to meet your need by helping them. If your compassion had been purely for their need, you would have given to them according to what they lacked, but only from what you had within you to give.”
“Maybe that’s true,” confessed the Frog, “but where does that leave me now? I’m trapped in this situation. How do I get out?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t see that there can be any tidy solutions.” The Toad blinked slowly and thoughtfully. “They have become reliant on you now. They think this is the way the world functions. They will believe that they actually need a constant leader. You are just going to have to cut them loose.”
“But, how can I do that?” pleaded the Frog. “They will be so disappointed in me.”
“There’s your flaw again,” the Toad said gently. “What you do might look like compassion, but it’s really all about you, isn’t it?”
“Look, come on, you seem to have all the answers,” said the Frog, getting angry that the focus seemed to keep coming back to him. “So what should I do?”
“I think I’ve said enough,” the Toad replied with an air of finality. “I wouldn’t want to make you reliant on me now, would I? However wise I am.” The Toad smirked, “You need to take your problems to the River.”
And with that the Toad abruptly turned around and crawled under a thorn bush.
The Frog was left alone with his thoughts. He couldn’t quite believe that he had bought all this on himself. But it did have an uncomfortable ring of truth about it. Maybe if he had had more confidence in himself, in who he was, it could have all been so different. As he hopped back towards the River he puzzled over the Toad’s parting words. What did he mean by taking his problems to the River? Still, that was where the Froglets were, and he would have to tell them that the party was over, no matter what they thought of him.
An unexpected scene greeted the Frog on his return; all the froglets and tadpoles, in the muddy fringes of the River, were gathered around the Fat Froglet. It seemed that in his absence they had been short of a teacher and the Fat Froglet, with his now superior knowledge of the River, had taken over.
“What are you doing?” asked the Frog.
The Fat Froglet was happy to respond on behalf of everyone:
“I just took over the training whilst you were gone. It’s not a problem. I’m very familiar with all the material. I’m teaching them all I know about swimming: the best strokes, the right technique, the joys of swimming and the dangers of the River”
“But you’ve never swum in the River in your life!” The Frog couldn’t quite believe what the Fat Froglet was saying.
“But I am teaching everything that you’ve taught me. It’s just the same.”
As the discussion unfolded, the Frog attempted to explain to all of them what he had realised, and tried to convince them that this wasn’t the best way for them to learn, because it wasn’t resulting in them swimming. He was very honest with them about his motivation and weaknesses and told them that he could not be their leader and teacher any more. It must be said that the froglets and tadpoles didn’t take it well. They had come to like things the way they were, and they argued strongly that if they couldn’t have the Frog, then they wanted to continue with the Fat Froglet instead. The Frog was disappointed that they couldn’t see it his way, and that they refused to change, but there was nothing else he could do.
For the first time in a long time the Frog sat alone in the shallows at edge of the River. He peered through the tall reeds that played to and fro in the current. And now that his head was clear and his hungers and thirsts were stilled, he again heard the voice of the River speaking silently to his heart:
“Come join me. Come flow with me. Be one with me.”
“What a perfect day for a swim,” he thought and with that he launched out into the flow. Immediately he could feel the pull of the current that wanted to carry him away. This time he didn’t resist. He flowed with the current. No more swimming against it, instead he willingly surrendered control and became one with the River. And the River, that had waited patiently, carried the Frog away. Together they swept to new parts and new banks and new adventures.
The Frog never found out what happened to the froglets and tadpoles; whether they carried on in the pattern they had learned, or disbanded as he had wanted them to do. But that was not his responsibility now. They would have their own dealings with the River. But for him, he now knew who he was, and that he was made to swim, and that his peace was with the River.
© M Day 21-Nov-2012