Saturday, April 26, 2008

Toad restores hope

Big Yard Bob is a powerful toad.

Big Yard Bob has a message for Michigan: the news isn't reality.

My children named Bob years ago when they spotted him by the sandbox. He became their seasonal companion in the mud behind the shed, under some leaves, here and there. They could never be sure he'd join their adventures, but often he did.

Big Yard Bob is the reason we stopped fertilizing the lawn. It had nothing to do with Earth Day. We worried about his toady skin absorbing the poison meant for grubs and crabgrass. We didn’t want him eating things coated in pesticide. We didn’t want to kill one of our children’s best friends. We'd grown to appreciate Bob's surprise appearances and the thrill it gave the kids.

Even as the children became adolescents, trading the sandbox for iPods and calculus and Facebook, Bob kept to the yard. We’d spot him as we gardened or mowed.

Yesterday, I saw him -- a burly specimen of toady muscle. He leapt away from the mower into some leaves under a bush. And he reminded me that all the bad news in the world cannot suppress the wonder of a single toad.

Bad news can smother us. Negativity pummels daily: credit crunch, financial meltdown, global recession, food shortages, soaring energy prices, foreclosures, plant closings, layoffs, outsourcing. It just goes on and on.

A single Bob spotting returns me to my senses -- to my awareness of the real world, the natural world, the world of a life force that will not be suppressed by financialization, war, greed, corruption and hate.

Bob lives in the real world and he reminds me that I do too. Bob has no rights, but he is free. Bob is radically alive. Bob lives in the present moment. Bob is not American. Bob is not a Christian. Bob is not a Democrat or Republican. Bob cannot be destroyed in the media. He's not a consumer, voter, property owner, sports fan, or anything else other than a toad.

And we are -- if we can remember among the cyber noise and bad news -- completely, utterly human. None of the trappings we've come to "need" make us human -- identities, work, religion, addictions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, possessions, affiliations, afflictions. We were fully human at birth and as children, before we filled our minds with notions of who we "really" are and who we want to be. Before we accumulated false antidotes to our deepest fears.

Our responses to the news and anything else we encounter affect our perception of reality. These responses can increase suffering or help mitigate it. This is our power as human beings. We can make positive or negative change in the world. As bad as things seem, we can adjust our responses to make things better. We have a choice in the matter -- to attend to the thing immediately before us with full attention and care.

Try it. Take a deep breath and just attend to what is before you. Smile at a stranger. Focus on the present moment. Throw off the cognitive tangle of economic, political and global crises and be where you are. You'll be amazed how different it all looks as light and hope break through the obscuring illusion of fear.

Big Yard Bob is real. So is hope.