The difference between feeling alive and feeling dead is that to feel alive one has to be different. However, this meaning is not about arrogant disobedience, narcissistic defiance, rudeness, or deliberate peculiarity. The search for personal uniqueness starts from within. It takes courage to resist the temptation to live a prescribed definition of happiness. After all, everyone else claims to know better!
A dream is a precious commodity. To achieve a dream is not easy. In many circumstances, it’s more about the journey and not the final realization. The courage to overcome the enemy of self-doubt along with the willingness to endure mistakes, ridicule, more mistakes, and more ridicule creates the individual.
After a long redundant existence propagated by that very same fear of ridicule, a seemingly insignificant
toad is awakened.
The first page.
His internal world consisted of an endless series of walls. Some felt like corroded wrought iron while others smelled like decaying mold covered plaster. In the middle of this imaginary fortress was an upside down fish bowl. Inside, Toad sat motionless as he stared through the glass pretending to be happy. In each direction stood the walls.
Sometimes he would venture out and mingle with the other toads. He watched, listened, and then wondered. He wondered why toads always stayed close to the ground. “Because that is what we do and always will” was the usual response. “But, don’t you ever wish you could, well, perhaps...fly?” Toad argued. Turning away from the usual ridicule and laughter, he muttered to himself “why am I the only one who thinks this?”
Back within the silence of his bowl, Toad painfully sighed and discarded the dream. Staring through the glass pretending to be happy, he noticed another wall had gone up. However, this wall was different. It was devoid of colour, texture, and personality. Toad realized he was like that wall.
The Second Page
Again today, the same way he had done in countless yesterdays, Toad sat motionless staring out from inside his upside down fish bowl.
A frog stealthily lands on the dome and notices Toad’s demeanour. “What is it that you are looking at?” she asks. “Walls” Toad mumbled gloomily without acknowledging the source of the question. “Walls? I don’t see walls” the frog queried and with that note leapt away. Startled by her sudden motion, Toad broke from his trance. To his astonishment the different wall, the one devoid of colour, texture, and personality had vanished. The idea of flying re entered his imagination.
With the same graceful quietness as before, the frog returned. “Hi Toad! Are you still focusing on those walls that nobody else sees?” she teased. Appreciating her gentle sarcasm with a roll of the eyes, he inquired as to how she knew his name. “Seems obvious. All toads are named Toad which makes you the same as the others.” “Well perhaps, but I’m not the same as the others! What’s your name? Something unique like … Frog?” Toad contended. Not to further irritate his present mindset, the frog accepted the name. “So how are you different from the other toads, Toad? Do all toads see non-existent walls?” On that note, Frog leapt away.
Stunned but not offended, Toad sat motionless reflecting on what Frog had just said.
“Well … I dream. I dream of flying.”
The third page.
The thought of actually flying turned into a powerful revelation. His brain became saturated with theories on how to make it possible. Each potential solution was analyzed over and over and over. At times it seemed he had achieved the ultimate eureka moment only to have it disappear because another idea quickly popped into his head.
Accompanied with an aromatic breeze, Frog climbed onto Toad’s bowl. “Hey Toad! What’s on your mind?” “Dreaming” Toad answered with a disturbed reply. Knowing that these questions would annoy him, Frog deliberately prompted “With your eyes open? How do you dream with your eyes open? Do all toads dream with their eyes open? What are you dreaming about with your eyes open?” Partially ignoring her sheepish jeering, Toad went on to explain “Flying! I have ideas, thoughts, theories … and what ever! Then there is this squawk of doubt. But the thing is, I don’t understand what it means to fly! Do you?” Hesitating for a moment with a puckered expression, Frog philosophically admitted, “ Yes … maybe … well, perhaps.” Confused by her indecisiveness, Toad prodded “So, tell me how?” Again hesitating but ignoring his question, Frog challenged, “You once said you were not like the other toads. So, tell me how?” challenged Frog. “Because I dream. I dream of flying!” barked Toad defensively. “So now you want to be a frog instead?” she riddled back. Dumbfounded, Toad watched her slide off his bowl and leap away followed by an aromatic breeze.
For the rest of the day Toad pondered over and over and over on that question. Finally snapping out of his thinking, he casually scanned around the outside of the bowl and realized a few more walls had disappeared.
He understood what Frog meant.
The Fourth Page.
Toad began to venture outside his his bowl more often. He had an allure of confidence. The other toads noticed this change in his composure and would immediately gather to inflict their usual ridicule that ended with their traditional redundant advice of “Why don’t you just accept the fact that you are just a toad and will always just stay close to the ground because that is just what we do and always will.”
Returning to the inside of his home, Toad could still see but could not hear the laughter. “So, tell me, how are you going to fly?” Not anticipating that Frog would be waiting for him and definitely not in the mood to bear any of her possible, albeit gentle, sarcasm, Toad let out an anguished complaint, “Why? Why bother?” “Take another look around outside!” she ordered then abruptly left. Reluctantly Toad peered out and saw the new wall. He instantly knew why it appeared.
See to understand. Understand to see. The precision and logic of his current thinking had to be altered. It was not leading to anything. Instead it felt like a continuous returning to the same conclusions. He sensed this need to change but could not put a clear definition to it.
A faint scented breeze broke his concentration. Without looking, he greeted Frog. “Well, hello Toad! How did you know it was me?” “I kind of knew” he replied nonchalantly somewhat surprised by her question. He didn’t have any other answer. It seemed obvious to him and therefore should also be to her.
Their conversion was different. Rather than reporting on himself, Toad asked Frog about her dreams. So, she spoke and he listened. “Toad? Why are you crying?” Not realizing that he was, he whispered back, “Because you are.” For an awkward moment they both starred at each other then Frog with out warning leapt away.
Toad sat motionless. The precision and logic of his mind was suddenly replaced by something else. Something familiar but long forgotten yet abstract and new. It was both painful and soothing. With a habitual peek out ward through the glass, he noticed that
all the walls seemed to appear faded.
The Fifth Page.
The glass bowl, his only refuge from the ridicule of his surroundings, became less needed. He found himself venturing out further and further sometimes not returning until the next day. He even developed a kind of awkward empathy towards the other toads that seemed to be completely content with their predictability.
Toad was constantly lost in thought desperately trying to define what it meant to fly. At times his thinking would switch and he would wonder more about why Frog left so suddenly and why she was crying. It had been a long while since he last saw her.
Toad slept very little. His obsessive introspection just would not shut off and if he did sleep his mind would dive into a frozen world of anarchic abstractions, which in turn made him more unnerved. Soon these visions remained in his mind even after he awoke. He wasn’t sure if they held a profound déjà vu resembling an unpleasant buried memory or an onerous future prediction. Either interpretation became an added distraction to his question “why did Frog leave and why was she crying?”
Spooked by yet another night hallucination, Toad finally came to the realization that his glass home, the only refuge from the ridicule of his surroundings, had now become a barrier wall. The answer was not going to discover him. He must go to discover the answer. With the flip of his hind leg, the bowl rolled over and Toad ventured on.
In the safety of his absence, an aromatic breeze landed on the vacant bowl
then abruptly left.
The Sixth Page.
Far down the embankment, but not too far, Toad noticed a slender object lying in the water seemingly splitting the flow of the current. Its symmetry in form appealed to his curiosity. Toad approached as respectfully quiet as he could then stopped. He sat for a bit, motionless, and just watched. With every blink, its colour would change to black or orange or white. The peaceful rhythm of its breathing lulled Toad into a daydream.
A gentle fling of water burst against his face. Unstartled, Toad squinted back with a smirk. “Hello Toad!”called out the stranger. “Hi? How do you know my name?” he asked, now startled. “A friend of yours told me” was the response. With a graceful spin and roll, the stranger continued, “And my name is Koi.” As she announced her name, Koi noticed Toad eyeing the random pattern of scars and scratches across her belly and sides. “Ugly, aren’t they?” “Actually, no. They make your perfection more believable” he warmly replied.
Simultaneously the two acquaintances peered out in different directions. Koi looked upstream while Toad looked down. “Is that where you come from?” Toad inquired while pointing to a distant pond. “Actually no” sighed Koi, “but it could just as well be. All ponds are the same.” “Sounds familiar like the predictability of just staying close to the ground” Toad added. The two of them stood quietly for a long moment. Both sensed an immediate connection with the other as if it were a divine instance of serendipity. Their conversation continued, uncontrived and open. They spoke of walls, bowls, ponds, and especially the most vulnerable of topics, their dreams.
“Do you know what it means to fly?” Toad asked. “Well, maybe.” Koi went on to explain. “The fish in my marsh were content to endlessly swim within the circular confines of the pond always avoiding the fresh water from a connecting stream. I would often ask them why only to be scolded for not adopting their definition of happiness…to follow routine.” Then in a sudden tone of panic, Koi whimpered, “Toad! I would get these premonitions, nightmares! … I don’t know, of me drowning in the pond!” Regaining her composure and slightly embarrassed, she confided, “Then I had this dream. In it I no longer need water.”
At the bottom of the embankment, emotionally exhausted, Koi and Toad both fell into a deep heavy sleep comforted by their newfound friendship. In the cover of darkness an aromatic breeze entered into their dreams.
Then in a wisp it left.
The Seventh Page.
A strange white object glided by his face. At the instant it touched, Toad awoke. He was not surprised nor disappointed to find Koi was already gone. He understood her passion to challenge the adversity of going against the current. It would be easier than to eternally endure the ridicule for not accepting the commonality of the pond. Her greater purpose was to be found somewhere upstream. He was proud of her. With that thought, an internal cheerfulness lifted his confidence. Toad lumbered up the embankment and ventured on.
The path was narrow just wide enough for a toad to pass by in one direction. He had been trekking for some time now, alone, and wondered if he had missed a turn off. As if that mattered. Rounding a bend, he noticed a red tree covered with glittering strings, metallic amulets, and gems. Next to the tree waited an unusual being gnarled and wrinkled from life.
She greeted him with the most delightful accent. “You have come along way, Toad. You look lost. Lost from the inside.” Observing his uneasiness and his expression of confusion, she reached over towards one of the branches and removed an ornament. “You seek an answer that you sometimes feel doesn’t exist. Let this be a symbol that the answer you seek does exist” she prophesized while attaching a steel charm around Toad’s front leg. Their eyes locked. “Do I remind you of someone?” “Yes” he mumbled. “Hmmm … come over here, dear, and pick a stone.” Obediently, Toad selected a pebble from the base of the red tree. A rune representing the “Wind” was engraved on the backside. As if by magic an aromatic breeze carrying a delicate white object brushed passed Toad’s face. It spiraled acrobatically and then landed softly across the charm dissolving. Its graceful hypnotic movement set Toad into a trance. He envisioned Frog completely covered by these white objects, which in turn, suddenly became black and heavy.
Startled by the imagined perception of crushing weight, Toad found himself alone on a path just wide enough for a toad to pass by
in one direction.
The Eighth Page.
The past days had been exciting yet frightening. Sitting on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the panorama inspired a deep introspection. Toad began to realize an internal change. He felt more and analyzed less. Logic had been replaced with emotion.
Toad reflected on his recent encounters with Koi and the peasant. The advice by Koi reassured his conviction for leaving the predictability of the toad world and the safety of his bowl. He distinctly recalled how the peasant departed by stepping back and not by turning away. Furthermore, he wondered about the Celebriarch’s assistant. The peasant believed that she would some day fly. Perhaps he should return to the valley and ask her. “So, now you want to be a frog?” The bite from Frog’s jibe ended that idea.
“How about the unusual creature gnarled and wrinkled from life” he pondered. In a second of panic, he remembered the bracelet. It was not attached to his front leg! “The white object? Why was Frog covered in them?” Toad yelled out in anguished confusion. Listening to the echo of his plea fade with every repetition, he regained composure and continued to silently mull over why every stranger knew his name.
Eventually the flood of “whys” with no decisive answers became too emotionally exhausting to handle. He had travelled quite far, especially for a toad.
The past days were definitely exciting yet frightening.
The Ninth Page
With the last flash from the storm in his mind, Toad reluctantly awoke. He felt the same exhaustion as the night before. None the less, he pulled himself on.
The terrain changed. The weather changed. The seasons changed. He changed. It had been a long while since he encountered any form of being. His recollections of Koi, the Peasant, or even Frog had somewhat faded. Ever so often a particular aroma would trigger his desire to fly. “Some day she will fly.” Toad voiced to himself. “Perhaps I’m flying right now and don’t even know it” he mused.
A heavy mist swarmed around him impairing his perception of place. Following the textures of the ground, he cautiously trudged forward sometimes closing his eyes to allow his sense of touch to lead. He blocked his imagination from speculating any dangers. “If I can’t see it, then it’s not there” he repeatedly lied to himself.
The concept of lightness or darkness remained a constant gray making it difficult to comprehend the time of day so he relied on the degree of soreness in his legs to dictate when to stop for the night. A shallow crevice guided him to a cozy tunnel. Backing in, Toad felt confident enough to close his eyes.
In the far distance of his mind, a storm started to brew.
The Tenth Page
Sunlight washed across his face. The grey visual confinement of yesterday magically became an endless layered vista of rolling hills topped with a gorgeous blue hue above. With out hesitation, Toad jutted out inhaling a tasteful breath of air. He felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. His journey, thus far, taught him a myriad of lessons and gave him a confident self-assurance of achievement. “Thank you” he whispered as if acknowledging the presence of a greater “something”.
His optimism was instantly tested when he turned around. A monolithic wall, seemingly endless in height and expanse in either direction, stood in front of him. The only imperfection that Toad noticed was the small blemish at the base that had served as his shelter. This wall was not of his invention. It was real.
The barrier was an obvious obstacle that presented defined limitations. “Well, this could be seen as an end or as an opportunity with choices.” Toad analysed with a nod. “Going up is impracticable. Turning back would be an act of conceding defeat to a pile of rocks! No! The question is direction. Left or right?” He concluded that either way contained unidentified and unpredictable consequences or benefits. He decided that the choice should be made not based on a visceral instinct or on probability logic but on chance. He pulled a flat pebble from the dirt. One side was dry. The other was damp. A straight twig was inserted underneath. A quick downward thrust of his front leg upon the makeshift lever catapulted the stone in a twirl. The Wind oddly intervened by unceremoniously slamming it against the wall.
Toad held absolutely no pre-set desire as to which direction chance will reveal. “There will be no if only or what if second guessing,” he professed. However, he could not help sense that a kind of divine serendipity was at play especially with the
sunlight beaming at his face from over the horizon.
The Eleventh Page
The wall adhered to the landscape as if it were pliable, snaking up or down, always curving but never straight. The choice was made so off he went. The softness of the hills proved to be a constant temptation to veer away from the harsh rigidity of the barrier however, Toad remained faithful to the decision to follow.
“Walls? I don’t see walls. Are you still focusing on those walls nobody sees?” Toad smiled to himself recalling a far away but not forgotten recollection. A random bombing of raindrops snapped him from his daydream. Looking up, an explosive curtain of water approached with such speed that Toad couldn’t react. The ground instantly melted carrying him on an uncontrollable zigzagging carpet ride of mud. He kept his eyes shut to protect them from the sheer volume and velocity of the torrent.
The onslaught vanished as fast as it arrived with one last insulting splatter on his head. With a few blinks his sight cleared. “Frog?” Astonished, he again quietly echoed, “Frog?” A limp distorted figure lay squished against the foundation. Her asymmetrical form was covered with patterns of white blades each ripped and slightly blackened. A sudden flashback memory shocked him. It seemed as if some sort of prophecy was now being fulfilled. This version was not imagined.
The rain returned. Toad lumped over and respectfully held her to offer protection. Frog peacefully moaned. The Wind vehemently hammered the backside of the wall forcing itself through every minute gap creating a melodic yet mournful howl. Fatigue eventually dulled his determination to stay alert. “Always listen to the sound of the Wind,” murmured a familiar voice as an aromatic breeze swirled freely in his mind.
And there they stayed adhered to the wall.
The Twelfth Page
Toad awoke alone. He wondered if he had succumbed to some sort of fever propagated by the drenching rain. Then, he realized that his front leg, the one that he held Frog with, had dissolved. Toad felt neither pain nor panic, just peace. A small white blade poked out from the ground next to where he stood. Mesmerized, he watched it morph into a red seedling.
A faint hum seemed to emanate from the wall. “Listen to the sound of the Wind. Hmm…it seems I have another choice,” Toad concluded. “I can resume following or I can go through it. Just like the Wind!” The issue was about taking personal ownership for the decision. Despite being small, the hole presented an intriguing opportunity.
“Well…” and with that cue, his mind became a factory eclectically formulating, dismantling, and modifying ideas. Each solution was plausible. Each solution blended into another and another and another. “Let me show you how I fly!” Cupped within Frogs hand, Toad perceived a return of an inner strength, strength he had once but somehow lost. Frog acrobatically glided him spreading an aromatic breeze over the landscape. “This is how I fly!” exalted Frog. As if reading his mind, “ I too lost my strength. You gave it back to me. You gave me your wing!”
His fervour in focus and intensity of thought and imagination finally exploded. Toad wearily opened his eyes. He was now on the other side. The wall appeared like a faint scratch across a wide backdrop depicting a world of long forgotten experiences.
The concept of time is both abstract and real. Time unused seems long in coming and limitless. However, time used seems short and limited. For Toad, time has raced away. Just like the changes in the weather and the changes in the seasons, he changed. Toad had aged. A reflection in a puddle revealed the damages, the scares, and the wounds of time. They were his trophies.
As he smiled back to himself, Toad noticed another red seedling beginning to
poke from the ground.
The Thirteenth Page
A mist hovered upward over a ridge eventually uncovering a ghostly silhouette. There was a peculiar familiarity about this sentinel of a figure. Clearing the effects of time on his memory, Toad remembered the Peasant.
His upward glance met the downward sight of the Peasant. “Well, old, old friend”, he greeted Toad while crouching with an extended hand. They humorously complimented each on their collections of wrinkles.
Settling his balance on the Peasant’s shoulder, Toad looked down into the desolate crater below. The mist was still rising. “Is the Celebriarch and his assistant back?” he enquired with a kind of deja vous insight. “No, just the assistant. She’s learned to fly!” Enthralled with the response, Toad peered towards the centre with greater attention. “Frog?”
There she was majestically posed with her arms opened as if to say welcome. “Welcome to what?” Instantaneously, a rapidly expanding mass of beings encircled her, each eager to receive her blessing. Eventually the tension and stress amplified as everyone, feeling that their needs to be greater than the other, zealously pushed and pulled flaying outstretched arms in order to attract her attention.
From above the distant rim, Toad and the Peasant stood quiet and witnessed the onrush. In time, all were satisfied and the crowd dispersed. Frog remained. Each given touch and each feather ripped from her wings made her crippled with exhaustion. She lifted her head and squinted towards the back and smiled.
Frog appeared to dissolve as a mist spilled over the ridge descending towards
the centre of the crater.
The Fourteenth Page
The next day was like the day before. Frog stood majestically poised with her arms opened anticipating while the Peasant and Toad watched on.
On the third day, the Peasant with Toad holding onto his shoulder left the outer ridge and tactfully meandered through the lurid confusion until they became stationed near Frog. Pinching a red envelope between his fingers, he valiantly competed with the other outstretched arms. Looking past the letter, she noticed the Peasant and Toad, but abruptly turned her attention toward a louder, more wanting plea. With the envelope batted away, the two friends disappeared from sight.
As if by instinct, the mob disbanded with the giving of the last blessing. The Peasant and Toad, no longer hidden, stood quietly and watched Frog lump over. The red envelope lay pasted to the mud at her feet. An empty expression emanated from her eyes as she traced the edges of its shape with her finger. After a long melancholic hesitation, Frog hurled her wings and left. An eternal dumbness befell over the two of them.
Sensing his confusion and hurt, the Peasant cuddled Toad in his hand and lamented. “Your friend is an angel. You once gave of yourself so that she could fly. I once built her a symbol to remind her of her dream and future greatness. She, in turn, gave us purpose to which we grew.” “But why would…” “…she fly off suddenly?” completed the Peasant. In the privacy of their thoughts, each concluded the answer was beyond their reasoning. “What was in the letter?” “Encouragement” signed the Peasant. All that remained was a colourless, desolate, pitted field littered with discarded feathers.
Upon reaching the summit of the ridge, the Peasant with Toad holding onto his shoulder, took one last look back. A dull, yet quite distinct crimson glow radiated from the bottom of the crater. Smiling, the Peasant explained,
“The seeds of hope are growing.”
The Fifteenth Page
As his ability to move decreased substantially, Toad would remain on the Peasant’s shoulder. Evidence of hope was seen everywhere they had travelled. With each step, the seedlings would instantly rise. Some grew like hands reaching upward in a gesture of thankfulness while others leaned over as if giving. Engulfed within one of these forests, the Peasant and Toad acknowledged a shared internal empathy. They were now part of something much greater than themselves.
The need to rest became more frequent. Dwarfed by the sheer height of the surrounding plants, a slender pure white blade beaconed them towards a clearing. Simultaneously, the Peasant and Toad glanced at each other, grinned, and chorused together “This is where she wishes us to stop!” Lowered to the ground, Toad crawled over and with his front leg respectfully hugged the feather as if offering it protection.
The two partners talked for a bit. They had accumulated a wealth of memories but neither felt the need to reminisce. Their emotions were void of any regrets.
The air grew frigid so the Peasant covered Toad with his hand. “Close your eyes old, old friend. Dream. Finish the last page of your story”. With the company of the cold, blue-black sky above, the Peasant tearfully witnessed the final breath.
With his head bowed, he slowly back stepped and silently
melted into the darkness.
The last page.
Shielding his face with his one remaining arm proved to be awkward. There were no walls around to shelter him so he toppled over and crouched as low as he could to the ground. Although vulnerable and unprotected, Toad simply closed his eyes and entered into a memory.
“Always listen to the sound of the Wind – for it will FOREVER guide you as you fly”. Cupped within Angel’s hand, Toad smiled back. He felt the return of an inner strength, a strength he had once but lost.”
The sting from a razor sharp point of a snowflake broke his trance. Within seconds the barrage overcame him. The white feather he so devotedly cherished oddly released itself from his grip and flew freely away.
Lying alone crouched low to the ground with his face shielded by his one remaining arm, Toad prayed out loud for an answer. “Why would the Wind suddenly change direction?”
Perhaps it would have been better if Toad had remained within the safe predictability of the upside down fish bowl. However he chose instead to experience the unsafe unpredictability of circumstance. He learned that walls do not protect but contain. In his last moment, he realized the magnitude of what he actually became.
It has been suggested that one’s life flashes before them upon death. Floods of countless details washed into his imagination yet only certain moments were caught. For Toad, one recollection captured his definition of joy. He had achieved his dream. To fly! He defied commonality.
“Because this is what we do and always will. Why don’t you just accept the fact that you are just a toad and will always just stay close to the ground because that is just what we do and always will.”
In the end, the effect one’s existence had on the world is rarely understood or realized. The meaning of perfection can be explained as being the best you can be despite your imperfection. Frog and Toad had made personal investments in each other. Even though they went in different directions, their connection helped the other achieve that definition. Brief but timely moments of encouragement by an intuitive stranger, like Koi, fill in the gaps during separation.
For Toad, a single unsolved confusion still remains, the last “Why”. There are things in life that are unpredictable and cannot be controlled. Wind. Only the reaction to it can. Perhaps however, an answer may be waiting for him on the other side of the