Of Life, Death & a Mouse Named Frederick

June 18, 2012 in Asia, Thailand, Travelogue

It’s overcast in Thailand today, at least our tiny corner of it. It’s the rainy season, so overcast is to be expected, dark days are to be expected, as is rain, which sometimes ruins a day but brings nourishes to an entire region.

It’s like that with life sometimes too. 

There’s been a lot of death and dying on the fringes of our life in the past two weeks:

  • The tragedy of a little girl, slain in a community we love in Belize.
  • The untimely death of a mother, friend of a friend, who by all accounts was perfectly healthy, and then, instantly, gone.
  • The long struggle of an acquaintance against a cancer that’s gaining ground and the suffering of her entire family, our entire community, with her.
  • The father-in-law of a new friend exiting the world with the same fighting spirit he appears to have lived with.


All this week. 

In the meantime, I’ve sat two long days on the beach watching my children roll screaming through the surf, reflecting their relative success with a surf board. I’ve watched my tall, strong husband wrestle a kite that lifts him off of the sand with ease. My own parents are strong and healthy and on the Pacific Coast of BC with my brother’s family to celebrate Father’s Day. My in-laws are preparing for a camping trip of their own, an annual tradition that is the hallmark of their midwestern summer. I’ve had a lot of hours to watch the waves and to think and to reflect on the great blessing that is life and health and how fleeting both are.

I’m not sure I’m a believer in happiness.

That it exists at all. That if it does it’s something we should pursue, or that even matters, in the grand scheme of things. That it is “relative” is certain.

Perhaps, it is merely the absence of suffering.

Or perspective on the degree of suffering.

  • It would certainly make a certain father very “happy” to have had his daughter living to celebrate Father’s Day in his arms this year.
  • It would make a teenage girl “happy” to have her mother back to mother her through these crucial years.
  • It would make this husband “happy” to believe he’d celebrate another Christmas, another wedding anniversary with his beloved wife.
  • I’m betting it would make the old man I’ve never met, the fighter, “happy” to beat the odds, win the cosmic lottery and wake up to find himself thirty-five and with another few decades to fight some more.


And then I look up because I hear Elisha whoop, the salt spray hits my face, and I realize that I have all of these things.

My daughter went backpacking alone through the community that lost this little girl to a monster, and here she is, surfing with her brothers, whole and well.

I’m healthy, like that mother who thought everything was fine before she died with no warning, leaving a child, just like my own, to mourn her.

No one is battling cancer here. We may have only days or weeks to live, but we have the great mercy of not knowing it, if that is so.

I’m not sitting vigil next to the deathbed of a man who gave me so much of my world through his own life, waiting the horrible wait.

Life is suffering.

The first of the Four Noble Truths.

But life is also, love, joy, light, laughter, gratefulness and peace, among many other things.

I’m suffering with my friends, and friends of friends this week. How can I not?

But the lesson I’m reminded of through that suffering is to LIVE.

To live with the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin, to live screaming my way through the roller coaster. To live in each moment as fully as my imperfect self can and to savor it. To be grateful for the gift of each person and the time; which in the end, is all we really have.

Do you know the story of Frederick The Mouse?

It is one of my all time favourite children’s stories.

It’s about this mouse who all summer long sits on rocks, smells flowers and writes poetry and songs. The other mice mock and deride him for not “helping,” not “working,” not “preparing for winter.”

And then the long dark of winter comes and when the food is all eaten, the celebrations are all over, the festivities have gone dark and they’re waiting, with empty bellies and empty hearts for the promise of spring, Frederick climbs up on a rock and starts telling them stories.

He recreates the warmth of the sun, the smell of the flowers, the colours of  the rainbows. They close their eyes and they can feel it, smell it, see it. In the end, it’s what gets them all through and they’re immensely grateful for Frederick’s gift and his “work” of putting things they did not see away for winter.

I’m reminded of this story often, and I’ll stop everything and carefully, quietly process a moment, a memory, for the long dark days of winter that are inescapable. 

  • My days will not always be so free.
  • My children will not always play happily around me.
  • My husband won’t always be the biggest man standing on the beach on the business end of a dragon of a kite, and winning.


It could all change tomorrow… perhaps even this afternoon.

Perhaps it already has and I just don’t know it yet.

I had salt in my eyes on the beach yesterday, and it wasn’t from the sea. Sometimes I forget what a gift each day is. Other times, I remember.

Remember with me, will you?

And grab those moment of joy between the bricks of suffering with both hands and stuff them away like Fredrick for winter. We’re going to need them one day.