THE PLACE OF FROGS
|All of God’s creatures got a place in the choir,
some sing low and some sing higher,
sing out loud on the telephone wires,
just clap their hand or paws or anything they got now.
Listen to the
bass, he’s the one on the bottom,
From the song “Place in the Choir”
He looked a little bit like Buddha, if you ignored the great, bushy beard, brown and sprinkled liberally with white. He stood, his stomach a small round bowl hanging over his belt. He was teaching the High School Sunday School class. He liked to teach Sunday School . He would, especially, today. Aimee had come. It was her first time in three months. He would offer the cookie jar to her.
They began with a prayer. Then he spoke. “ Aimee , would you like a cookie?”
“Yes. I didn’t have breakfast. I’m staaaarved .”
He handed her the cookie jar. She opened it and screamed. Three frogs jumped from the jar. One landed on her lap and then sprang to the floor.
“ Froooogs !” He voice rose to an even higher pitch. “ Frooogs ! You put frogs in that cookie jar.” She stopped to breathe. “And…And…they’re so ugly. They aren’t even green. They have spots all over them. I’ll bet they’re the kind you use to make poisoned darts. I’ll probably diiiiie .” She hugged her knees.
“They’re Northern Leopard Frogs. They won’t hurt you. Lance would you please collect the frogs.”
And Lance, surprisingly agile for his size, had the three frogs back in the cookie jar before Aimee could scream again. In fact, she touched the last one before he put it in the jar. She was, if anything, resilient.
The teacher, this time, passed out real cookies and began to speak: “as you can see, there are places where frogs do not belong: cookie jars, for instance.”
“Pillow cases, too” growled Samantha as she glared at Lance, who happened to be her brother. Her twin, Sabrina, nodded menacingly and punched Lance in the arm. He smiled and shrugged. “Spring does funny things to guys”, he murmured.
“Yes, pillow cases, too”, the teacher continued. “The Egyptians had them everywhere. That was the point of the plague. Frogs, part of God’s good creation, were suddenly where they didn’t belong. And they didn’t seem so good then. The Egyptians wanted them gone. They probably would have been glad never to see a frog again.
A discussion of the Ten Plagues ensued. But finally it returned to the misplaced, overabundant frogs: frogs in the temple, frogs in the bath, frogs in the pantry.
Finally the teacher said: “so now you can understand something of the creation story. Everything has its proper place, and, when it is there, it is glorious. ‘And the Lord saw that it was good.’ But, when something is where it shouldn’t be, the glory is no longer seen: instead a monstrosity occurs.”
“Like frogs in the cookie jar”, Aimee said before popping an Oreo into her mouth.
“Like the ‘no’ in the mouth of Pharaoh when God told Pharaoh to let His people go”.
Crystal spoke. It was the first time in a month. But the paucity of words did not indicate a lack of hearing. She had heard everything that had been said each week she had been there. And she had kept all the things she had heard and pondered them.
“Just so”, the teacher said.
And, then, all were quiet, except for the sound of Oreos finding their proper place, a student’s mouth, revealing their glory to all who could taste.
The teacher also ate two and then stopped. Crystal looked at him and fidgeted. Finally she said: “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t understand what, Crystal?”
“What about them”?
“God made them, didn’t He”?
“And God made them good, didn’t He”?
“And so, they, like everything else, have a glory, don’t they”?
“Well, then, what is the glory of the frog”?
“Well, frog legs taste really good. They taste like chicken.”
“Yuck”, Aimee said.
“They’re great with ketchup”, Lance added.
“Samantha threw a pillow from the couch at him. “You’re disgusting.”
But Crystal was not to be deterred. “No. No. That’s not it.”
“Well, Crystal”, the teacher said, “it’s almost April. Perhaps you will be able to tell us soon”.
The class continued. When it was over the teacher remembered the question, but did not seek to answer it. Instead, he prayed for Crystal to find the answer.
But April came and went, and so did May. And finally it was March again. This year March was raw, cold and wet, culminating a winter where snow had fallen on Thanksgiving Day and continued off and on through the month of March. Not only did the snow linger, but the ground seemed to groan under it—all 110 inches of it. Perhaps that was why the snow stayed so long: although it occasionally melted under a March drizzle, it never completely melted. Crystal ’s driveway, which she shoveled regularly, was still bordered by snow mounds taller than Crystal in the middle of March.
April came unnoticed, snow flurries marking the first week. But there was sun and the snow did not stay. By the second week of April there were crocuses and the temperature hit fifty degrees. Easter saw blue skies and sixty degrees.
Crystal’s Grandmother, who lived near a small town in western Pennsylvania , died three weeks to the day after Easter Sunday. She had gone to church, come home, eaten lunch and lain down on the couch to read her Bible and take a nap. She had left the front door open to catch the breeze, which must have slide its freshness over her face as she gave up her spirit. She died holding an open Bible to her bosom, smiling.
Crystal drove with her parents from Cleveland to the funeral.
Blanche Jones’ house was set back from the road. A driveway went through a lawn dotted with Dogwood, Crabapple and Cherry trees, all burdened with blossoms. A forty year old Lilac, which had never been trimmed, stood thick with purple tongues of fire before the house. The grass would need cut this week, Crystal thought.
Behind the house, at the edge of the woods, was a pond. A Red Winged Blackbird lifted from the Lilac and flew toward it. Crystal breathed deeply. Her Grandmother had gone home, really gone home. But until it was her time, this land and this house would be home to Crystal .
The next day the funeral took place. Grandmother lay dressed in pink in the coffin. She looked as if she might sit up. But, when Crystal touched her face, she knew the body no longer was her Grandmother. She was gone. The winter of her life was over. She awaited the spring.
When the funeral was over the family and friends gathered at the grandmother’s house. Crystal sat with a Pepsi and some cookies and listened to the talk going on about her. It was small talk, but, in the face of death, it was also confident. She thought of the Easter sermon and smiled and thought: “just like it should be”. And then she thought a thought which came unbidden: “fear over the death of my Grandma would be a lot like the frogs in the cookie jar”.
Crystal looked out the window. The sun shone, clouds scuttled across the sky, the Lilac blew back and forth in the breeze and a Cardinal perched in the midst of it, bright red hard against the green and light purple. From the open door came the scent of the Lilac floating like a faint song through the room.
Finally, the friends and acquaintances left and her parents and aunts and uncles cleared the dishes and the put the food away. They talked quietly as the sun went down. Crystal put on her jacket and walked to the pond.
It was not quiet there. The deep sound of a Bullfrog first drew her from her thoughts. And then another. From one side of the pond and then the other the Bullfrogs groaned. And then another sound forced itself into the duet. From the very center of the pond a floating, sometimes submerged, Pickerel Frog made his song, a cross between a buzz and a snore. And, then, from all about, Crystal heard the high peeps of the Spring Peepers. They filled the air, almost like rain. And their song was beautiful. Finally, the long trill of the American Toad was added.
But there was more here than the noise of male amphibians, hopeful and ready. Crystal drew in the cool night air. It was fresh, a washing air, scented with blossom, blossom which would soon bear fruit. The sound of the frogs became as one sound. And it seemed to take on a life of its own . It was a Herald announcing the end of winter. It was a Herald announcing a glory, already burgeoning, yet to come. It was praise, too, praise of the glory already coming, praise of the glory to come, praise of the Giver of all glory. And it was, itself, a glory. In the seasonal cycle of life God had provided this strange and remarkable welcome. Soon the pond would be filled with new life, and the trees would hang heavy, plumped with fruit. The song of the frogs welcomed this, the song of the frogs bid it come.
Crystal sorted out the sounds again: Bullfrog, Pickerel Frog, Spring Peeper, American Toad. But she could not keep them separate. They blended and separated, first one and then the other, until they formed a harmonious whole which lifted Crystal ’s heart to God in praise.
When the moon had risen and stars had filled the sky, she heard her parents call her and went back to the house. She read the first chapter of Colossians, and, when she reached the seventeenth verse, she read it twice and fell asleep.
She dreamed. In her dream she saw her grandmother standing in a green field before a pond. The song of the frogs filled the air. Her grandmother knew the joy Crystal had known. In the dream the song grew wings and flew before the throne of God. He was pleased.
It was a dream and when she saw her grandmother again in the dream she was young and she stood before the throne of God and beautiful was her song and great was her praise. And she was joined by a great multitude which, like the frogs, filled the space with a great noise that was perfect praise.
The next Sunday Crystal spoke as soon as the opening prayer had been given.
“I understand the glory of frogs.”
And so the teacher put down his lesson and listened.
Crystal spoke as he had hoped (and prayed): well. This day the lesson was hers to share. And, as the teacher listened, his heart gave a great amen to her words and the glorious place of frogs. And he had joy in God.
He was not the only one. Aimee asked him as she left the class: “would you take us sometime to hear the frogs?”
Mike Frank © 2004