Monday, December 12, 2005

The Stupid Story of Stupid Freddy the Stupid Leaf and His Stupid Fall

Did I mention that I think that story is stupid?

"The Fall of Freddy the Leaf" is the last thing in the New Horizons textbook for third year junior high kids (grade nine). Every year there are a couple of short stories in the textbooks. The two main stories in the third year text are both about death and dying. Okay, I can see the sense in having one story that deals with something serious like death, and the first one in the text is a reasonably well known tale about a tree near Hiroshima city and two children who died at its feet. I could possibly even applaud the inclusion of that story. But then they finish the book with The Fall of Freddy the Leaf, a daft story that compares the falling of a tree's leaves to people dying. It is so incredibly patronising. It's like the kind of story you would read to a five year old to help explain death. And we are doing this with 15 year old kids. Unbelievable. And it's basically the last thing they do.

Five to eight years ago they had licensed The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein for use in the texts. THAT would have been WAY better. I can't believe they got rid of it. I can only imagine that someone refused to allow them to renew the license.

And here is something that adds injury to insult: on Friday a grandparent of two of the school's students passed away. The older of the two is in the third year (ninth grade). On monday they both missed school to go to the funeral. So now we have kids dealing with death face to face, and this vapid story has become just that much more loathsome to me.

My own grandfather passed away just shy of two years ago, and I was unable to go home for the funeral. It made me wish that I had gone home that Christmas just before. The last time I spoke to my grandpa was that Christmas over the phone. We knew that he had brain cancer, so it was no great shock when he did die, and I don't think that I was affected that strongly. Even so, the last thing he said to me rang through my ears for weeks. "Eat some brown rice and pretend it's turkey!" Things you can't change.

So I have gotten to thinking about how much harder to deal with it must be for kids in junior high, especially if they weren't expecting it, and especially when you take into account that the grandparents are living at home for with many more families here. Then I realised that my other grandfather had died when I was really little, but I hardly knew him or had much idea of what was going on. Or perhaps the next thing I am going to write about happened before, offsetting the event.

When I wasn't yet in grade school, one of my friends died of leukemia. She was a year older than me, I think. My mom has told me that it was really hard on me, that seeing pictures of her would set me crying again. There is a moment from much later on where I remember remembering: another family was moving and in the course of helping I came across a photo of her and asked who it was. I think I have only three memories of her. I remember a moment walking into a back lane, (perhaps at her fourth birthday party? ) and seeing her in the midst of her friends (perhaps having lost her hair from the treatment, and perhaps my confusion). I remember the blinding sunlight. I remember walking past there again after she died and expecting to see her there. The next memory is of my dad showing me a card that she had made and telling me that she had died, of him trying to explain it. I think I remember having a hard time grasping it, and then crying a lot. And the last memory is I remember the small framed photo on the dresser at the house where that second family was moving. I'm quite convinced that all three memories are actually mine, because I don't see myself in any of them in the way that one does when one remembers something only from hearing stories about it so many times. And they don't seem the kinds of things that people would tell. In a list of significant life events, this would probably make for chronological number one. So I can't help wondering just how deeply and broadly it may have affected my life.

A reasonably common question in Japan is asking what your 初恋 first love is. Hatsukoi has a feeling of innocent elementary school love, and I get the impression that it might even count the things that come before what we would call puppy love. When I get asked, I never really know what to answer. But sometimes I wonder if it was her.

All the things that revolve around someone dying. The possibilities now cut off, the would have beens and should have saids. The what ifs. The finality. The powerlessness. The pain and painless empty feelings.

Death is so commonplace and so unusual. So obviously simple and so frustratingly complicated.

So naturally I am frustrated with the textbook publishers.


At 7:59 p.m. PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:02 p.m. PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf

Spring came. Freddie, the leaf, was born on a branch of a tall tree.
Hundreds of leaves were born on the tree. They were all friends. Together they danced in the breeze and played in the sun.
Daniel was the largest leaf and Freddie's best friend. He knew many things. He explained that they were part of a tree in a park. He also explained about the birds, the sun, and the moon.
Freddie loved being a leaf. Summer was especially nice. Many people came to the park. "Lets's get together and give them some shade," said Daniel. "Giving shade is part of our purpose in life. Making people happy is a good reason for living."
Old people sat under the tree and talked of old times. Children ran around and laughed. It was fun to watch them.
Summer passed and fall came.
Soon leaves changed their colors. Some turned red and others turned yellow. Freddie turned purple. They were all very beautiful.
One day, a strange thing happened. Some of the leaves were blown off by a strong cold wind. The leaves became frightened. "What's happening?" they said.
It's time for the leaves to change their home," Daniel said. "Some people call it dying."
"Will we all die?" Freddie asked.
"Yes," Daniel answered. "Everything dies."
"I won't die!" said Freddie.
But his friends started to fall one after another. Soon the tree was almost bare.
"I'm afraid of dying," Freddie told Daniel.
"We're all afraid of the things we don't know," Daniel said. "But you were no afraid when spring became summer, or when summer became fall. Changes are natural."
"Will we return in spring?" Freddie asked.
"I don't know, but Life will. Life lasts forever and we're part of it," answered Daniel.
"We only fall and die. Why are we here?" Freddie asked again.
Daniel said, "For the friends, the sun and the shade. Remember the breeze, the people, and the colors in fall. Isn't that enough?"
That afternoon, Daniel fell with a smile. Freddie was the only leaf left on his branch.
The first snow fell the next morning.
The wind came and took Freddie from his branch. It didn't hurt at all.
As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. He remembered Daniel's words, "Life lasts forever."
Freddie landed on the soft snow. He closed his eyes and went to sleep.
He did not know this. But in the tree and the ground, there were already plans for new leaves in spring.

At 8:04 p.m. PST, Blogger Fletcher said...

(The first two comments were identical, so I deleted the first.)

At 10:39 p.m. PST, Blogger Fletcher said...

You should see the picture of Daniel lying happily dead on the snow.


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