Six months ago I made a new friend, and now it is almost time to say goodbye. My art teacher had asked me to make a selection of several different photographs for her to choose from for me to copy in charcoal. After considering, she chose my least favorite, the photograph of the toad. I had, thoughtlessly, thrown him in only because my original selection had seemed scanty, now I regretted the impulse. Still, my teacher was so confident it would turn out well, and so complimentary when she heard that my sister had taken the photo, that I did not complain, secretly resolving to get through the project as quickly as possible. Six months ago.
He has a knowing look, does my toad, and even as I write, he seems to be laughing at me from his makeshift easel across the room. A dry, brittle, sort of laughter, which can only be discerned through the set crookedness of his large mouth, and the quiet scrutiny of his squinting eyes. Yes, he is laughing, laughing at the way I procrastinated through distaste for him, and at the sudden way I fell in love with him. For I now wish there was more of him to draw.
But the laughter is not all on his side. He makes me laugh, and that is the root of my delight in him. He is incongruous; a thing without grace, and yet a delight to look at. There is a fascination is his clumsy shape, blotched and bumpy skin, and protruding eyes, which no longer leads me to repulsion, but to a quiet, squint-eyed, smile that echoes his own. He is like a wry joke which has come alive.
I have found a word to describe him: grotesque. Something whimsical, extravagant, ludicrous, and antic. When I look at him I see, both in him and through his eyes, the ludicrosity of my own behavior. I am able, then, to laugh at myself, without bitterness, or even the faintest tinge of regret, but with a strange pleasure in seeing myself as harmlessly laughable. I am sometimes like a toad.
This is not the first time I have changed my mind about something I thought was ugly. The first I can remember were spiders. I decided, one morning when I was ten, That I was going to like spiders. I had been frightened of them, hated the mere sight of them, but I did not enjoy being frightened, so I decided that spiders were beautiful. Oddly enough, I found that they were. Next came snakes, and then, as I grew older, the subtle taste of cucumbers. And so, over the years, I have come to realize, that the world must be full of beautiful things to which we are habitually blind. God is not the author of the flower only, but also of the spider and toad.
But now I must say goodbye. Just a few more hours work and my picture will be finished. Soon it will no longer belong to me and will hang on someone else’s wall. Even so, I will have something I did not have six months ago. I will love toads, whether I find them in a garden bed or in myself. I will laugh at the wry joke that is in us and the world.
What will be next?