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Be Yourself: Important Life Lessons From a Puddle

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

This is the story of a puddle that became a pond...

The puddle lived in West Park, a grassy, public park located a few blocks from the house I grew up in. I spent a lot of my young life in that park, playing on the swings, making forts underneath the canopy of a large mulberry bush and scraping my knees trying to climb a large, rough concrete seal -- a design that for some reason graced every playground in southern Michigan (and perhaps the rest of the country) built during the late 70s and 80s.

West Park was large, but otherwise fairly unremarkable as parks go. A long concrete sidewalk ran the length of it, cutting a path between the playground and the bandshell and the baseball diamond and the soccer fields. The playground was located at the far end of the park and to get to it, you had to walk through a patch of sidewalk that was perpetually submerged under one gigantic stagnant puddle. The puddle spilled over onto the baseball diamond, flooding the path from base to base and turning it into a mud-pit. If, in an effort to avoid the puddle, you thought a detour through the grass might be passable, you would be proven wrong by the squish of your shoes sinking into the damp earth, leaving you with water-soaked socks for the rest of the walk home.

The puddle made the park impassable. It made the baseball diamond useless. It made your socks squeak inside your shoes when you walked.

For most of my life, that puddle straddled that sidewalk and seeped into the surrounding grass. Only in the hottest, driest height of summer did it recede, and even then, there was mud.

I left my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan to go live in other cities and I forgot about the park and the puddle.

Years later, while home for a family visit in late spring, we decided to walk to the park. As we rounded the corner where the puddle had always lived, I saw that it was gone; in its place was a real little pond. The concrete sidewalk that had long been buried beneath the puddle was now an elevated boardwalk on top of which many people were standing, having stopped to look at some passing ducks and schools of goldfish swimming below.

The boundaries of that troublesome puddle had been allowed to expand so greatly that it transformed from an obstacle into a universe. Within its new borders now lived:

Several schools of goldfish ranging from bright gold to mahogany, rumored to have suddenly appeared in the pond after a friendly neighbor took a trip to the pet store.

A dozen turtles that ranged in size from small pancake to small dinner plate and who enjoyed arranging themselves by size as they sunned on the arch of partially submerged log.

A muskrat named Ted who occupied his time by cheerfully swimming back and forth across the pond, his mouth stuffed full of sweet grass which he plucked from the edge of the water.

A mother duck and her five ducklings who followed her in one long, perfect line as if attached with an invisible thread. The mother duck was also followed by two argumentative mallards who were always clamoring for her attention. At the end of the day, the whole brood would make peace and retire to the top of an old stump to sleep while mother duck stood watch.

A gathering of tadpoles so great that the edges of the pond were practically black with swarms of their wiggling bodies.

A multitude of toads who had created those tadpoles over the course of a few nights when they gathered in the reeds belting out their mating calls: long, sustained chirps made by puffing out great sacs on their throats. A stunning and seemingly romantic trick that amplified the sound so greatly that it could be heard inside the houses that surrounded the park.

A great blue heron that stalked the edges of the pond, moving so slowly and with such impossible patience that you could not begrudge him the dinner of toads and tadpoles and goldfish that he scooped up in his beak.

A flock of redwing blackbirds who swooped in daring arches over the pond before deftly alighting on long reeds in a flash of crimson and onyx, announcing their arrival with a wild, throaty trill.

And this is just to name a few of the inhabitants of this new world. Other notable species attracted to the pond included curious dogs who pulled at their leashes to nose at a bobbing duck or the swishing tail of a muskrat. And of course, humans of all ages who couldn’t help but pause to marvel as they passed through the park. In fact, it seems that people did more than pause, they came to the park to see the pond. The pond was now the reason to visit the park, (although I still recommend a detour at the giant concrete seal…).

It has been many years since I was surprised to find a pond instead of a puddle and I am now one of the many humans who make a point to visit its rippling waters.

During these strange times, while quarantining here in Michigan, I walk to this pond almost every day. Some days I take my sketchbook with me and draw the citizens of this little universe. Some days I simply come and sit and enjoy the peace of this little oasis. I notice the similarities between those who flock here -- from the mama duck teaching her babies to swim to human mamas teaching their babies to read -- so much life is being sustained above, below and around this little pond.

I’ve watched spring unfold here and I imagine I may see summer come and go, too. Every time I am here, I marvel at this puddle who became a pond -- and I decided I finally had to tell its story.

For so long, the pond had been forced to be a puddle by bossy people who decided it would be better as a baseball diamond, or a soggy field or simply covered in concrete. It had been reduced to a nuisance. And then somebody changed that. They let it be a pond, in fact, they encouraged it to be a pond. And by virtue of that gift, the pond gave back with unlimited generosity.

Of all the inhabitants of the pond, the one that I love the most is the story that lives inside of it. You see, the story of a sad puddle that became a beautiful pond isn’t really the story of a pond or a puddle at all, it’s a story about each of us and the profound gifts we can share when we are allowed to be what we have always been: ourselves.

Want to see more stories from the pond?

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