“I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, ‘For the same reason I laugh so often–because I’m paying attention.’ I tell them that we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide.” ~Glennon Doyle
On Tuesday night, minutes before we were scheduled to leave for our son’s high school Cross-Country Awards Banquet, I discovered our African dwarf frog belly up on the rocks at the bottom of his aquarium home. Although he (I decided years ago he was a he without any biological proof) hadn’t been acting himself for weeks and I had suspected this was coming, the knowledge he was gone left me with a frog-shaped hole in my heart where he had escaped like a cartoon character busting through a wall and leaving only his outline.
Nine years ago, as a heart bandaid after a life-scarring debacle in which my son and I unsuccessfully attempted to raise a tadpole into frogdom, I purchased from Brookstone (don’t ask) four fully grown aquatic frogs in small habitats. Each of my young sons would have two critters to care for. That was the plan, anyway. Although the boys named them, Padme and Anakin and Swimmy and Splashy, we all know how the story goes. I fed them. I cleaned their watery homes, bought their food, and looked for new plants for their decor. They were mine in all their froggy glory from the beginning because I had killed their tadpole and these were my mea culpa. Still, I told the boys that these frogs were temporary, short-lived pets and they needed to prepare themselves for that.
Padme, like her Star Wars character, was the first to perish that first year she moved in. About a year later, Swimmy and Anakin died within a few weeks of each other. I figured the last holdout wouldn’t last much longer on his own and I would be free of the stigma of the tadpole catastrophe and the work of the frog experiment. Splashy, who was now referred to by the unfortunate sobriquet Foggy Foo, however, continued to thrive. Research told me most most aquatic dwarf frogs lived less than five years in captivity. After six years, I began to suspect Foggy Foo was an anomaly.
Foggy and I worked out a marvelous relationship over the years. He recognized my voice and would emerge from his house when I called him. He did not do this for anyone else. He would swim to the top to eat when I fed him and had on occasion eaten from my hand. I would often pause during my day to check on him. I enjoyed watching him and listened for his muffled songs. We had a bond. He was my little guy. I loved him as much as any human can love an amphibian, although definitely not in the same way Sally Hawkins loves her amphibian in The Shape of Water.
My heart broke a little the night he left us. Although I compartmentalized the loss until after the awards banquet, when we got home I carefully lifted him via fish net from the bottom of the tank and brought him upstairs to the main floor commode. I gathered my men, gently deposited Foggy’s lifeless form into the bowl, and we said a few words about our deceased friend. Float in peace, we told him as I depressed the high-flow option on the toilet and flushed him with great flourish to his final resting place.
I won’t lie. I shed a few tears Tuesday night. And, since then, I’ve shed a few more. I am verklempt thinking about him now. The space on the counter he occupied for years is desolate, and I suspect the frog-shaped hole in my heart is there to stay. Perhaps it seems silly to mourn a tiny frog who existed on the periphery of our lives, but the smallest things can hold within them the deepest of life’s lessons. That frog was a link to the days when my boys were young, noisy whirlwinds who made our house reverberate with life. With Foggy’s passing, I can see that my little guys are also gone, replaced by hirsute young men with booming voices and earbuds that render me silent. Letting go of Foggy is an acknowledgment that soon my sons will leave Joe- and Luke-shaped holes in my heart as they also escape my world. It sucks and it’s worth a few tears.
I am working on the Buddhist notion of patient acceptance, knowing that the most important thing I can do for myself in this life is to welcome what is without wanting to change it. This is much easier said than done. Joe and I will begin touring colleges next week, and I have no idea how we got here. But life is messy and emotional and difficult, full of reasons to laugh and cry. So, I will float on and be in what is and cry when I need to and laugh when I can because I am paying attention. I will practice my patient acceptance so I too can float in peace someday.
I keep coming back to this thought, and find it difficult to express.
It’s about how all events in the past remain unchanged. Those golden moments and those ordinary ones, spent with my sainted mother, my dear departed puppy, and a list of others that have gone on before me.
I could linger in the sense of loss. I could test the air and verify they are still not with us.
Or I can recall those golden moments, from yesterday to the thousand-years-ago that was my childhood.
My mother’s smile is just as bright, and her voice as sweet.
My angel puppy and I walk on, and the world is as beautiful as when he was here.
My grandfather, singing harmony with my grandmother at the chord organ.
I’m paying attention, too.
I am practicing the holding of these visions closest to my heart, that they will be the things that fill my mind as I float in peace, and on to the next thing.
We are the sum total of our experiences. The ability to focus on the good, roll with life’s punches, and make conscious choices about remaining in the present are the most important skills we can cultivate. I am grateful every day that I have acknowledged these truths and that I am working to patiently accept life for what it is. I know too many people who go through the motions without realizing what those motions mean. Awareness is everything. I appreciate your awareness and kindness, Paz. I really do.
Begging your pardon for my geocentric reply.
The first thought should have been condolence for your loss.
Float on, friend.
Oh, Paz. That didn’t even cross my mind. Grateful, as always, for any of your wise words.
I know what you mean! Bang, my daughters crayfish, didn’t die the first month she brought him home from 3rd grade. Instead, after a year, he moved to my office where I cared for him until he passed away when she was in 6th grade. It was so sad to not hear his tank renovations or tapping during the day – he left an impression on me!!
It’s crazy how small things we never expected to touch us can create such an impact. 🙂
I love the opening quote. I to agree life is messy and emotional and difficult, full of reasons to laugh and cry…
I spent most of my life closing myself off from my feelings, labeling them inappropriate for the situation. I’m learning to be where I am at, in joy or sadness or anger or fear, and to relish all feelings as proof I am alive. 🙂