“Some mathematicians are birds, others are frogs.” So said the mathematician Freeman Dyson, who died earlier this year at the age of 96. “Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas out to the far horizon. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. I happen to be a frog, but many of my best friends are birds.”
The poet Marianne Moore, who was born in Kirkwood and whose mother attended Mary Institute in the 1870s, once contended that, to be interested in poetry, one must be interested in “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Perhaps the inverse of Moore’s conceit is true of schools—that to be interested in education, one must be interested in creating real gardens for imaginary toads.
This week the Beasley School had a virtual assembly which included a brief address from me. I shared Dyson’s vision of birds and frogs with the students. “When we are like frogs, we see what is right in front of us, and we focus on the present moment,” I told them. “I hope you will keep being like frogs in your MICDS garden, hopping through your time in school and learning more and more as you go.”
This interminable coronavirus pandemic is, of course, for the birds, and in more ways than one. “It is important as well, especially now, to see into the distance,” I told our Beasley students, “and to know that one day the coronavirus pandemic will be over, that things will be back to normal, and that we will be able to be with each other and to be in school as we were before. So keep being like frogs in a garden between now and winter break, but also keep being like birds, with the horizon in your eyes and hope in your hearts.”
As Marianne Moore puts us in mind of frogs, so does another American poet, Emily Dickinson, put us in mind of birds. “Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune without the words, / And never stops at all.”
I happen to be a bird, but many of my best friends are frogs. Which one are you? Which one is each of your children? We all need each other in our good garden.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you a very happy weekend with your families.
Head of School
This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Froggie Went a Courtin’ as covered by Bruce Springsteen. I used to sing this 16th-century children’s song more like a lullaby to my children to settle them down at bedtime when they were very young. Now I sing it to our endlessly mischievous “pandemic puppy,” Nelson, who turns one year old next week. It worked better on the children. (Apple Music / Spotify)