Cassidy has recently learned how to read, and it warms my heart to see her spend hours on end reading to herself. We have quite the extensive children’s library in our house, plus we have three or four dozen books out of the local library at any one time. I remember being this age, the freedom of reading all these books for myself. I am excited and happy for her, and I don’t even complain that much about the piles of books that are EVERYWHERE… I’m guilty of the thing myself.
Of course, at the end of the day there is nothing more satisfying than a bit of a read-aloud in bed, and our favorite series of books at the moment are from Arnold Lobel. They are slow-paced, and poetic, and just a little bit odd.
Personally, I like the Owl at Home stories, but Cass tends to go for Frog and Toad.
I read “Alone” to her the other night. This, somehow, was a story we’d overlooked so far.
Toad arrives at Frog’s house and finds a note on the door which reads:
“Dear Toad, I am not at home. I went out. I want to be alone.”
“Alone?” Toad wonders. “Frog has me for a friend. Why does he want to be alone?”
Toad becomes worried and looks for Frog in all the usual places, and finally sees him on a island. Alone.
Toad comes to the conclusion that Frog must be very sad and goes home to make sandwiches and tea to cheer Frog up.
He returns to the shoreline and asks a turtle to take him to the island. Turtle says, “If Frog wants to be alone, why don’t you leave him alone?”
Toad frets that maybe Frog no longer wants to be friends. “Yes, maybe,” says the Turtle (I LOVE this line) but he takes Toad to the island anyway.
Toad then issues a great proclamation of apology for all the dumb things he does and the silly things he says, and in so doing, upsets the sandwiches and tea.
Toad is always making a bumbling mess.
“Our lunch is spoiled,” he cries, “I made it for you, Frog, so that you would be happy.”
This is where it gets good.
“But Toad,” says Frog,
I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.
Toad concedes that this is a good reason to want to be alone.
Frog is now happy to not be alone, and he and Toad stay on the island.
They ate wet sandwiches without iced tea.
They were two close friends sitting alone together.
Wordsworth spoke of the “inward eye which is the bliss of solitude.”
Thoreau said, “I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.” He goes on to say that farmers are not lonely while they are at work in the field, while they are employed. A student, a thinker, he points out, is employed by his thoughts. While alone and thinking he is is at work in his field, he is sowing his crops.
Thoreau also says: “What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.”
My very favoritest thoughts on being alone come from Rilke:
I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people:
that each protects the solitude of the other.
It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult;
that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.
Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
I don’t know why we fear being alone. I don’t know why we fill our hours with noise, and the bustle of activity, and busywork. We say we want, we need, more time; what for? Honestly, wouldn’t we just fill it with more busy nothings?
I don’t know why we hate to see others being alone. From the time they are born we are forever butting into our babies’ quiet time, attempting to stimulate them and teach them and hurry them to milestones that indicate they are growing up. If our older children are alone and quiet we become suspicious and wary. (At least I do.) If one of them were to sit on an island of their own making and ask to be left alone we would worry. You know it’s true. Seeing them lounge on a couch, we wonder if they can’t find something more productive to do.
I can recall a multitude of nights as a teenager, where I looked forward to being alone and instead wound up having to entertain those who had come to visit me, so I wouldn’t have to be alone on a Friday night. (Because I was grounded, by the way, not friendless.) Their intentions were noble. I resented them anyway.
Even now my husband hovers when I have had enough, when I cocoon in my bed with nothing to do but think the thoughts in my head. I’m so busy during the week, I need this time to decompress: let the thoughts air out, expand, take form, become something tangible and real instead of just wisps peeking out from the edge of my conscious attention. Trying to focus on them while I am working is like a laughable attempt to catch tigers by the tail.
Jeff thinks something must be wrong, but there isn’t. I’m not upset. I just want to be left alone for a little while.
It is when we are solitary that we hear the voice in our head, that we have the space to reflect on and make sense of our lives, that we become familiar with who we really are; and that is the voice that speaks to us when we are called upon to make decisions. It’s the voice that cannot be silenced when it sees unfairness, violence, wrongdoing.
I worry for the generation that we are raising, these kids that don’t get the time and the quiet and the alone to cultivate that inner voice.
What voice then, will guide them?
I’m not sure that Arnold Lobel had all this in mind when he wrote “Alone.” All the same, after reading it to her, I patted Cass on the head and left her to be with her thoughts. And I felt better about my decision to not schedule the kids for camp, or sports, or lessons, or any of those things that other kids do during the summer to fill their days. Six weeks stretch ahead of them where they are free to do nothing and to be alone, for as much as they could possibly want.
There are only so many weeks that we are allowed this freedom in our lives.
I envy them for it. Don’t you?
P.S. I know there are in fact two toads pictured in this post, not a frog and a toad. All I could find were toads in our yard. For crying out loud, what do you want from me? !