Other Doors
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Other Doors

A Little Frog Dying on the Side of the Road

A story about loss and connections

My girlfriend, Christina, and I go for a short walk around our neighborhood just about every morning. It’s the sort of thing I used to sneer at.

“That’s not exercising,” I’d think, swearing I’d never stoop so low.

I guess never is now. These days, I relish our walks and the thoughts that bubble up, though today’s bubbling bubbled over.

She somehow spotted the little frog and stooped to have a look, despite him being no more than two inches long and his coloring blending in with the pavement. He didn’t immediately jump, so I bent to investigate as well.

I love frogs. I have since I was a little boy and don’t even know why. I just think they’re cute, I guess.

Nothing appeared amiss at first. He was just a bit slow to react.

But he was also in the road and that wouldn’t do, so we found a stick with which to nudge him. He made a small hop on my first gentle poke to his butt, and everything seemed normal to me.

When Kris said, “I think he has blood on his mouth,” I finally noticed everything was all wrong with this little guy (or gal). Not only was he bleeding as she said, but he was also missing parts of his left front and right hind legs.

Needing a pause, I looked away. When I saw the freshly cut grass, it hit me: he’d been caught by those whirling plastic weed trimmer threads and cut to shreds. Not surprising, since the incessant mowing and trimming is a near-daily occurrence in our neighborhood from April through October, but frustrating nonetheless.

I know the grounds crew is just doing the job they’re paid to do, but I couldn’t help being annoyed seeing the mangled frog and thinking about how humans have this obsessive need to control everything in our environments. Mangling things as we shape them to meet our selfish needs seems to me to be what we do best.

The only other similar incident in my lifetime was arguably much worse. I’ve blocked out the details of my awful lawn mowing encounter with a nest of baby rabbits years earlier, but I do know I killed at least a couple of them.

I knew this little frog wasn’t going to make it, even if he’d managed to instinctively hop when I’d nudged him. I also thought one of God’s creatures deserved to be as comfortable as he could for whatever short time he had left.

Kris helped me move him a short distance into the shade at the side of the road next to a bit of water. This wasn’t perfect — probably not where he’d have gone to die had he been able — but it was better than laying out in the road.

We often joke about the amount of meat I consume. We’ve determined it’s over a hundred chickens a year (two a week consistently) on top of all the beef, pork, and fish that I also regularly include in my weekly meals.

For the most part, at least until recently, I’ve thought nothing at all about this. Humans are at the top of the food chain and that’s just the way it is in a violent world where survival and sympathy don’t often mesh.

After going fishing with my friend Mike and eating a couple of the fish we caught, I had a tiny passing thought about the order of things. It’s not like I’ve never fished before and eaten my catch, but I’m also not out there every weekend and have been especially scarce at the streams in adulthood compared to my youth. So the experience was newish enough that I had this rare moment of self-awareness considering how the fish at the end of my line had given its life to provide me a bit of sport and another meal.

On the heels of my fishing enlightenment, I read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman, and the creaky old gears of my mind turned a bit more. Everyone I mention this book to says they’ve already read it but also never shared any of its wisdom with me, so thanks for nothing. I’ll just figure things out on my own.

What I decided is that I won’t be scrapping my carnivorous diet for some bean sprouts like Millman, but I did hear his words about the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. I’m starting to pay a little closer attention to those connections.

I’m trying to remember to say grace before meals, for example, just to give thanks for the animal that gave its life so a big fat ass like me can live a while longer. I remember about half the time, but that’s better than not at all.

This little brown went back in the stream rather than onto my dinner table.

Like consuming my catch, interconnectedness isn’t a new concept for me either. It’s just another I hadn’t considered in a while.

My hard-drinking college English professor and coach of WVU’s club rugby team, Dr. Fitzpatrick, lectured extensively about how “everything is connected to everything else.” He also told me I looked like Sylvester Stallone one night after we’d both had a few too many beers, so consider the source.

I was too young and foolish to immersively read most of the books he assigned, skimming titles I’d have enjoyed like Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany only to extract the information we’d likely be tested on, but Fitz’s words resonated with me then and they resonate with me now. That would be the words about connectedness; the ones about Sly didn’t ring true with me or with any college women that I recall.

On top of saying grace half the time, I also read more now. Like Mike Tyson said, “Old too soon and wise too late.” Or was that a lesser scholar named Benjamin Franklin?

Reading Millman’s words about feeling his teacher’s presence in the wind rustling through tree leaves — knowing that he needn’t wonder any longer where the old man had gone because he was everywhere and had never really left — brought me some comfort. I thought about my daughter, Ruby, and my often desperate longings about where she might be, and that gnawing fear that I’ll never see her again eased just a little.

Maybe if I open my eyes, I can see a little of her now. Perhaps she’s here with me all along this walk — part of the stream and the trees and the breeze.

That’s why a little dying frog on the side of the road suddenly mattered. She’s part of that little frog, too. We all are, and it’s part of us.

I was tearing up a little as we moved the frog and promised to come back later. I’d like to say I didn’t feel self-conscious about that, but it wouldn’t be true. I tried wiping my eyes as we passed some other people continuing on our walk so they wouldn’t see me sniffling.

My humiliation was fleeting. In the next breath, I got mad and thought, “To hell with them. I don’t even like people. If it was them on the side of the road bleeding from their mouths, I wouldn’t lift a finger to help.”

I guess I still have some work to do on this idea of everything being connected because I sure don’t feel nearly as strong a connection to my fellow man a lot of the time as I do to nature. Besides, if you don’t want me to react violently, just like something wild, then maybe don’t provoke me with your leering.

When Ruby’s death was really raw a few years ago, I’d become infuriated hearing about someone taking the loss of their pet extremely hard. I was clouded by grief and had that all wrong. Nowadays, I roll my eyes harder at mourning the loss of most humans.

What are we compared to the loyalty and unconditional love pets freely give? Destructive and self-serving come to mind.

We returned early in the evening as promised and found the little frog dead, just as we knew we would. We carried him about thirty yards on a piece of tree bark to a wooded area next to a stream, dug a small grave, placed him in it, covered it with dirt, and marked it with a couple of stones and some wood.

We even made a small cross from a twig before I mumbled something about him returning to his maker, but it’s too short to see in the photo. Besides, a visible cross would attract someone to kick it over, and my dwindling opinion of human nature would dwindle some more.

A place to pause on my walks.

Looking closely now at the photo of the little grave we made, I see how it kind of looks like a frog’s body with two legs drawn up to each side. We didn’t do that intentionally — we were just trying to cover the earth and mark the spot — but I’m glad I noticed the resemblance.

This might all seem a bit silly and melodramatic. Surely I’ve encountered many dead animals in my lifetime and never took the time to bury them. That’s true, but for some reason, I did take the time to bury this one.

Valuing life and recognizing that it matters can’t be a bad thing. If we all could do just a little more of that, myself included, then maybe we’d start seeing a little more of the good in each other. Maybe I’d also develop a bit more compassion for my fellow man as I continue exploring this idea of interconnectedness.

Rest in peace, little frog. Thank you for the difference you made in my life one dreary day in May.

I’ll see you again on a sunny day. I already do.

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