There is a grasshopper sitting on my dinner-plate dahlia. It seems quite content sitting on that expanse of pink petal, and as I watch it, Aesop’s fable about the Ant and the Grasshopper comes to mind.
You know the one I mean—the Ant toils all year long to fill his home with food while the feckless Grasshopper fritters away his day singing and dancing and making merry. All is well while the sun warms the earth, but then winter comes…
When I first heard the fable, I understood its lesson: work hard and be rewarded; be idle and suffer the consequences. Still, I felt sorry for the Grasshopper and thought that the Ant could have been a little more compassionate and considerably less self righteous.
In fact, I had issues with many things I read— including Hans Christian Andersen’s beautiful stories. The Little Mermaid, for instance, set my teeth on edge. Why, I would demand of my parents, my uncle, and anybody else who was around to listen, did the Prince have to be such an idiot? He should have realized that it was the Little Mermaid that he loved, the Mermaid who would rather die than hurt him. My mother agreed with me and said that life could be cruel, sometimes. My Uncle Harry suggested, “Rewrite the ending.”
I did. I also composed different endings for other stories. In my version, the wolf did NOT devour Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother but was cajoled into eating her good cooking and eventually became a household pet. Rumplestilskin didn’t tear himself in two (an impossibility, I felt,) but went on a long journey to the moon where he had arguments with the Man In the Moon. The Little Match Girl did not freeze to death but was taken in by a kindly old woman who had no children of her own.
Fiction needs to mirror life, yes, and good fiction must be true and honest. The world can be brutal and evil, and terrible things need to be told and exposed. I know this and admire the writers who can portray such things. They are brave, their vision is keen and true.
But today when I look at this small dash of green against my dahlia, I can’t help rewriting the Aesop fable. In my version, the Ant warns his Grasshopper neighbor of dire and awful consequences if he doesn’t keep his nose to the grindstone. “Work or starve,” says the Ant, and the Grasshopper feels chastened. He has good intentions, and he does try… but he has a poetic soul and look, the world is beautiful! There is the music made by the trees and the song of the birds, and there is the intoxicating scent of spring flowers followed by the liquid gold of the summer sun.
How can anyone work continuously under such circumstances? So the Grasshopper dances with the fireflies at dusk and by day conducts the cicada orchestra. He rejoices in the rain and thrills to rainbows. At night, under a canopy of summer stars he dreams, and perhaps he writes a poem or two in a grasshopper-ish way:
Sun’s warm on my back
The world is gold with plenty…
Joy! Joy! all is well!
Meanwhile, the Ant is toiling every minute of every day. He hasn’t seen the sun for weeks and doesn’t care to. The stars? He has no idea what they are. Songs? Pish! who has time for singing? His back hurts, and he suspects he has lumbago and sciatica, too, and his arches have fallen. Never mind… another grain of sugar, another leg of beetle, another bit of leaf needs to be added to his hoard.
Then comes Autumn, and the Grasshopper watches the leaves blaze and then fall to the ground and sings an ode he has written for the occasion. The world is so beautiful that it almost hurts him to see its loveliness, and he takes it all deep into his small green heart. But then, snow falls…
Now, this is my version, so purists are allowed to sneer. The Grasshopper, stricken with fear and cold, creeps to the Ant’s house and knocks. At first the Ant refuses to open, but then he relents and lets his pitiful neighbor in. And all through that long winter the Ant shares his food and the Grasshopper realizes that his friend does have a point: work is necessary in order to eat. In return for the Ant’s hospitality, the Grasshopper teaches songs and tells stories that enthrall his host. He even teaches the Ant to dance! Both learn to accept and appreciate each other’s different ways of looking at the world, and both learn the value of a real friendship.
Now, really, isn’t that a better ending—and a kinder lesson?
And so we clasp hands…
Though we do not share each dream,
We’re forever friends.