If our friends are all angry at Fred for that awful thing Fred said, we should find out if Fred actually said it, or just something like it, or something that could be skewed to imply it. Or maybe Fred said the opposite, and someone with an axe to grind knows that the internet doesn’t read carefully, and a misleading headline is good enough. Or, maybe it was some totally other guy, also named Fred, and the Fred we know is now holed up in his basement watching a frenzied mob slash his tires for something he didn’t even do.
Image via Maxpixel (public domain)
I come before you today with the unpleasant task of making the case against Frog, of Frog and Toad. In Arnold Lobel’s immortal series, the two friends play and work, suffer and triumph together; but Frog is the superior friend in every way. He is responsible and sensible, a hard worker, patient, and willing to try new things and enjoy every season. Toad is none of these things. Toad takes, and Frog gives.
OR DOES HE?
He manipulates Toad into believing his head has grown overnight, rather than just offering to shrink his hat. (“The Hat” from Days with Frog and Toad.
He tricks Toad into thinking it’s Spring and that he’s slept for several months
so Frog will be able to have company. (“Spring” from Frog and Toad Are Friends)
He forces Toad into winter clothes, coming into Toad’s house against his protests. “I have brought you some things to wear,” he said. Frog pushed a coat down over the top of Toad. Frog pulled snow pants up over the bottom of Toad. He put a hat and scarf on Toad’s head.
“Help!” cried Toad. “My best friend is trying to kill me!” (“Down the Hill” from Frog and Toad All Year)
He shames Toad for his housekeeping habits. Dusty chairs? Well, Frog, maybe if you came all the way in and visited Toad where he was, instead of sticking your head in and making him feel bad
the chairs would be free of dust. (“Tomorrow” from Days with Frog and Toad)
Worst of all — and I find this one really unforgivable — he holds the ball of string and makes Toad do a running try, a running and waving try, a running, waving, and jumping try, and a running, waving, jumping, and shouting try, and Toad’s legs are much shorter than Frog’s.
Why can’t Frog take a turn running? (“The Kite” from Days with Frog and Toad)
Listen, they are good friends. I can see that. Frog loves Toad. He tells him stories, he makes him tea, he teaches him how to do new things, and he prompts him to enjoy life more. He is endlessly patient while Toad has tantrums over buttons, and he does his best to chase away the curious creatures who want to see Toad in his bathing suit.
They spend Christmas together, they are brave together, and they enjoy the shivers together. In a forever-unrevealed Gift of the Magi scenario, they rake each other’s leaves.
And Toad needs Frog, certainly. Frog wants the best for Toad. Most of his excesses come from wanting Toad to learn a good lesson about life. He doesn’t just want Toad to be happy; he wants to improve him.
But this is not a clear-cut case of the good friend and the bad friend, the giver and the needy one, the shining star and the dead weight. Frog is the kind of person who mistakes inborn temperament for virtue, and I very much admire Toad for sometimes digging in his heels and spending the day the way he likes: In bed.
This is, of course, what makes their friendship all the more delightful and real. Toad is lazy, pessimistic, easily discouraged, and an occasional berserker; but he is also intensely loyal, and generous, if heavy-handed.(“Alone? Frog has me for a friend! Why would he want to be alone?”) He’s sincerely penitent when he’s self-centered. But it’s not just a one-sided relationship. They are deeply entwined with each other, and each provides something that the other needs, whether Frog knows it or not.
Toad’s love for Frog is revealed in the deep panic he feels on Christmas Eve, as he runs out barefoot into the storm, armed with a pan and a rope, imagining that Frog has simultaneously lost, being chased by an animal with sharp teeth, and in the bottom of a deep hole.
But Frog needs Toad just as much. He seems to rarely knows how to spend his time unless it’s with Toad, and when Toad has a problem or is sad, his day is consumed with searching for an answer. He sits all day with Toad, waiting for the snail to deliver his letter with the sole message that Frog is glad for Toad’s friendship. And when Toad is paralyzed over his lost to-do list, Frog buys into the idea that he can’t act without it, and works up a sweat trying to catch it. Frog is just as needy as Toad, in his own way. He needs Toad to need him.
Toad is painfully aware that Frog is more accomplished than he is, and it eats away at him, at least subconsciously. In his dream (which should be required reading for every adolescent and adult), he finally triumphs over Frog so entirely that Frog disappears altogether, and Toad realizes that being second-best is not nearly as bad as being alone. He wants Frog to be “his own right size,” even if that’s bigger than Toad.
I challenge you to find a truer and more beautiful portrayal of friendship anywhere, even in books with many more syllables per page.
I’ve heard from the bereaved that death anniversaries can be brutal. Everyone else is the world has long since moved on, but the grief is rekindled. A kind word and the promise of a prayer can make a huge difference in how painful that day feels.
It’s a profoundly Catholic impulse, the follow-up; and, like every virtue, it was modelled by Christ.