RIPPLES…INTERRUPTED.

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A few short weeks after singing the praises of the ‘happiness effect’ (see “The Third Question” on this blog) I find myself in a delicate position: I’m sitting in the mud, counting my losses. Some may argue that resting one’s behind in the slush is better than brewing it but from where I stand (or not) –sad and lonely- it makes little difference. Too many loved ones have passed on, my health has been compromised by a freak accident, and my mom’s rapid decline is forcing me to contemplate life as an orphan. My butt’s in the muck and it does not feel good. As my wet hands run over my tear streaked face I have no choice but to ask question number 4: does falling in the quicksand signal the end of the happiness ripple?

“The Frog and Toad Treasury” written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel is one of my children’s all time favorite collection of stories. Frog and Toad are a charming pair of friendly croakers. Toad is predictable and loving; he likes to sleep and worry. Frog is adventurous and caring; he enjoys a good splash in the pond and taking chances. In “A Lost Button”, Toad, while taking a stroll with his friend, notices that his favorite jacket is missing a button. Frog looks high and low for it. He finds many buttons in the woods but none of them are Toad’s. A disappointed and angry Toad shoves them all in his pocket and goes home. There on the floor lies the never wandering object of his upset. Feeling sorry for making his friend search the woods, Toad sews his collection of buttons on his jacket and offers it to Frog the next day. And the story reaches its merry conclusion: “Frog thought it was beautiful. He put it on and jumped for joy. None of the buttons fell off. Toad had sewed them on very well.”

Let’s not jump to conclusions: I haven’t been turned into a sobbing amphibian nor have I been cursed into a raging one. Toad and Frog’s case of the missing button, or rather, their parable of the multi buttoned coat, is leading me to the answer I’m seeking.

When we feel happy the world is an exciting place where walking in the woods is synonymous with fun and adventure. But sooner or later the unthinkable crosses ours minds and we worry. When it crosses our paths, we grieve. Our attention zeroes in on the missing piece: the litany of pain is loud and confusing. We want to reconnect with the joy that’s deserted us. As it keeps slipping through our fingers, the world starts shaking with the force of the quake.  Life becomes a blur of anger, emptiness, and grief.

There, on the floor, Toad saw his white, four-holed, big round, thick button”: happiness does not wander; like a button, it’s waiting to be picked up again and put to loving use. Joy wants to survive even in sorrow. The buttons of our lives are all different in color and impact and they’re not sorted in neat and convenient piles. They’re a string of unexpected and unchecked emotions asking to be found and acknowledged. When we take ownership of our feelings and allow them unfold as they may we collect the evidence to our resilience: we sew the buttons on our life travelers’ coats – very well. Ripples, interrupted? Yes. Happiness, terminated? No. Because true joy does not reside in the absence of pain or even in crawling out of the quicksand. It stems from our willingness to make use of all our buttons, familiar or new, and from our readiness to wear the beautiful jacket of our experiences with wonder. Whether we’re sitting in the mud or swimming in the pond.

2010 © Maryse G. Copans

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24 thoughts on “RIPPLES…INTERRUPTED.

  1. Hi Maryse! Beautifully written, so rich with symbolism/metaphor! I love the frog/toad story – lots of lessons in these “kid” stories. We had the Velveteen Rabbit read at our wedding – great story of loving someone even when “their fur is worn off and their boot button eyes have lost their luster” We are definitely at that point!🙂
    Hugs
    suZen

  2. Hey I love what you wrote! It ends on such a great note and is uplifting. I like the story about the Frog and the Toad, and how it applies to life. You’ve done very well! I REALLY like it.

    You know there are so so many people out there who are depressed and sad. I think that’s why stories like this one really help people pick themselves up!
    love Lisa K.

  3. Awww, that is so cute! And just what I needed today. I discovered a contact on flickr, a photojournalist, who had posted pics of children with sad faces in the midst of poverty, and she had written a story on human trafficking. I was sucked into this story and felt sad and helpless. Then I received an email from a friend asking me to call in sick for her, she has no more minutes on her phone (she is underemployed and without health benefits). I could do that! Then I snowblew my driveway and my neighbors, and made a difference right here in the us of a! I guess I sewed my buttons back on. Thanks for this lovely story and your interpretation of it. You hit the spot!

  4. I heard somewhere (probably Oprah lol) that all our actions are based out of fear or love. So I think maybe when we’re sitting in the mud we need to ask ourselves what we’re afraid of.

      1. I’m sure you’re right. Fortunately, I know very little about grief. I lost a brother about 20 years ago, but we were not close. Other than that I have never lost anyone close to me.

  5. As I read your last lines, I got “la chair de poule” all over! Maryse, you are a wise and beautiful soul. How very right you are… I think that happiness is our inherent nature. The hardships, challenges and sorrows of life come and disturb that… but we always go back to it. We can’t help it.
    You’ve expressed the journey in the most simple and clear manner… Your exquisite writing style is just the “cherry on top of the an already very delicious cake”… And that truly makes me happy today!
    Thank you dear Marsye, you really are a gift…

  6. Peggy Nolan

    Exactly what I needed to read (as you read my post so you know what I’m talking about!)

    Thank you for being part of my lesson today!!

    Peggy
    (a new fan!)

  7. Very touching, Maryse. And I agree with your comment above – sitting in the mud is often an expression of love. Actually, I think it’s sometimes the most courageous thing we can do, rather than trying to conform to the traditional notions of happiness and march on like good soldiers. That’s what I love about this piece – you’ve broken through the perceived boundaries of happiness and joy and taken us to something deeper. And I do adore Frog and Toad. There is also a musical version of it. We saw it a few years ago and it brought me such delight. That’s when I discovered how much I love children’s theatre, and it was during a time in my life when I was rereading children’s literature and finding so much wisdom there. Thanks!

  8. Maryse,

    You’ve captured the true meaning of joy. It’s not something we find on the surface…but rather, a deeper sense of oneness with life. True joy exists amidst the pain. Happiness may come and go…but joy exists at a deeper level. You’re right…joy/happiness is something we don’t have to go searching far for…we can always find it right in our own back yards.

    Great writing!! A JOY as always to read your posts.

    Cathy

  9. georges

    Wandering around this text, i was wodering, as the snow slowly makes New York a white city, if happiness is not a starte of mind, a choice, almost a decision.

    Not the naive or ignorant happiness. But the deep and profound acceptance of who one is. This does not ignore the pains and includes the joys: there will always be buttons and traps. Why would they change happiness? Even the worst of those events, like the loss of a beloved one, a mother’s illness. The snow does not make New York white: it changes the vision. Isn’t our “regard” the defining choice of our life.

    Without iot we constantly move from the disturbances of the empty part of the bottle to the appreciation of the filled part. At the end, we all are partly full and partly empty.

    Why not look at today’s and what we will make of tomorrow?

  10. Lovely Maryse, you speak beautifully of the joy of being brave enough to let the muck be what it is and sit there quietly, and just let what is, be.

    I think when we’re sad, or grieving, or just melancholy, we can be happy to be that, knowing that we’ll press on, knowing that life is beautiful no matter what. There is indeed, a season for everything. . .

  11. Excellent writing! I love the way you shared the story of the Frog and the Toad and how you intertwined with where you are on your journey. Joy is a state of being and joy does not take a vacation when the dark falls upon our life joy simply makes some minor adjustments and looks for the break of day.

  12. I’m sorry your life is full of trials right now, but you certainly have a great attitude about it. When I’m down, I remind myself it’s just a matter of time before I’ll feel on top of the world again.

  13. I went through what you are facing last year: the slow decline of my mother and her eventual death, cleaning out her house, having to put my beloved Pug down, injuring my knee so I couldn’t exercise. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other…and eventually come out the other side.

    You wrote about it beautifully, and found joy in there, too. Great post.

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