In one of my favorite novels, “The World According to Garp” by John Irving, Garp warns his son about the undertow at the beach, and the son then imagines a monster who lurks beneath the sea waiting to suck him under, known as the “Under Toad”. While the metaphor it represented in the book was much darker, I have recently connected the Under Toad to my own life.
In my world the Under Toad is the accumulated weight of thoughts of the past and future that literally pull you under the present, to where what’s going on at that very moment is of the least importance. This particular Under Toad is dangerous too, not only dangerous to truly living the “Half-Full” life, but potentially physically dangerous.
I fell prey to the Under Toad on a couple of occasions this past weekend, and I’d like to share these as a way to help myself as well as anyone else who is apt to let this monster into their head. First, as I was traveling back to the east coast from the Rockies last Friday I was happy to encounter a friend of mine on the plane; I was in the front and he was in the back, so when he passed by I promised I’d catch up with him after we landed.
What happened? The Under Toad got me after we landed and I was full of thoughts about what I was supposed to do tomorrow and into the next week, so I walked off the plane, breezed through baggage claim (I never check bags), got into my car, and then sped towards home. 10 minutes later my friend called me – “where are you?” Bummer. Fortunately, my friend was very understanding after I profusely apologized.
The second instance really got me – I was hurrying out of the house and into the garage to go to the supermarket in anticipation of my wife’s return from California (hurrying because I was thinking “I’ll never get all the work done I need to do today”) when I realized I forgot my cellphone – that compounded the Under Toad because I then also added my displeasure about having to return to the house.
I got the phone, got in my car, and proceeded backwards – into our closed garage door! In my hurry I had forgotten to open it. The Under Toad had sucked me completely under, and I knew it. Fortunately the damage to the door was minimal enough that a push here and a hammer there got it back to good operating condition. The car wasn’t so lucky – I’ll probably need to replace the back bumper because of the scratches.
The funny thing is, I should have seen this coming – the pace of life had picked up considerably in the last month or two, and I had been having smaller “tugs” by the Under Toad that weren’t as significant.
In the wake of this, now fully aware of what was happening, my wife and talked about my need to get back “in the moment, fully present”. My mind was too jumbled. I needed to banish the Under Toad back to the depths of the sea. That’s what I’m trying to do this week – keep in the present. I’m lucky to have folks that can help me, like my wife, friends and all of you who face the same struggle and are good enough (and brave enough) to share your experiences and lessons.
So, if I may offer this advice – watch out for the Under Toad!