Me and Mr. Toad: We look brave...but are we?

A horrible thing happened this morning. I was mowing the lawn and hit a large toad. It didn't kill him, but it lopped off a significant portion of his snout. So I guess, yeah, by now it has most likely killed him. (Please God, make it have killed him.) When I saw him blinking up at me and realized I was seeing the fine ivory bone of his mandible and the pulse his gaping mouth, I screamed, scooped him up, and ran inside, chanting like a monk, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

When Gary heard me crying and frantic, he came hobbling (he blew out his knee, which is why he's not mowing the damn lawn) thinking I'd hurt myself. I held the poor creature forward between my hands, and it writhed in pain and terror.

"I hit a toad with the mower!" I cried. "Get me something to put him in! We have to take him to the vet!"

"Let me see," Gary said calmly. He gently took the toad, carried it out back, and tossed it into a tall stand of Boston ferns.

Stunned, I started sobbing, "Oh, God, why did you do that? We'll never find it. It'll die."

"It needs to die," Gary said quietly. "It'll be dead in a few minutes." And then he took me in his arms, even though he was freshly showered and shaved, and I was a gross, sweaty, grass-stained toad murderer.

Something you have to know about Gary here is that he is a rescuer. If he sees a turtle on the road -- and I'm talking any road, including the I-45 feeder on numerous occasions -- he will pull over or circle back and get that turtle and deliver it to some appropriately swampy location nearby. Same with snakes, poisonous or not. And toads and frogs and lizards. The very last thing I expected him to do was pitch that toad off the deck into the bushes.

Weeping and pushing the mower through the rest of the jungle that was our front yard, I found myself thinking of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Remember how people expected him to kill that rabid dog? And not because he was cruel, but because he was kind. Because he was discerning and a good marksman. And because he was benevolent enough to do it.

People are fond, in our biz, of the phrase "kill your darlings." I certainly don't equate the cutting of words with the killing of a living creature, because, well, novels are made by fools like me, and only God can make a tree...frog. So don't email me and tell me it's not the same. I know. I'm just saying the killing of one's darlings requires that same discerning and benevolent marksmanship, and an author will most likely not find that within herself.

Colleen posted the other day about being in the company of writers, and this is one of the ways in which networking is so crucial to the art and business of writing. You might be a spot-on, surgically intuitive critique artist when it comes to someone else's work, but there are times when each of us has to find her Atticus. Someone brave and loving enough to be heartless and tell us it needs to die. An editor. An agent. A critique partner. If I've injured an opportunity beyond salvation, if I've mangled an idea or carelessly mowed over a professional relationship, I need someone I trust to step up and tell me to let it go.

I feel really terrible about that toad. Couldn't stop thinking about him all day. Even at the moment I scooped him up in my hands, I was thinking about a book I must have read to my children a thousand times: Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel.

Frog and Toad were reading a book together.

"The people in this book are very brave," said Toad. "They fight dragons and giants, and they are never afraid."

"I wonder if we are brave," said Frog.

Frog and Toad looked in the mirror.

"We look brave," said Frog.

"Yes, but are we?" asked Toad.


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