I’m so scared of the coronavirus. I’m honestly so scared I really can’t think about other stuff when it’s got me like this, and even my teachers are scared about it.
I know exactly what you should do to feel better. This might sound crazy, but listen carefully because I will only say this once:
You should eat a live frog.
I am totally serious. This is no joke. I will explain myself, but before I do I want to tell you that you’re lucky to live in Connecticut. My favorite writer lived there. His house still stands in Hartford, they’ve turned it into a cool museum and I’d give almost anything to see it.
I fell in love with this particular writer in the fourth grade when I first read a story called “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” And it made me laugh.
You probably wouldn’t care about this story, it’s about a frog-jumping contest. Also, it’s a little tough to read since it was written in 1865, and in those days people used funky words like “betwixt,” “inasmuch,” and “whence.”
As it happens, 1865 was a crazy year in America. Women were wearing Victorian fashions. The West was still wild. The pioneers were traveling great distances with their families, enduring hardships, roaming in covered wagons through untamed wilderness in search of free WiFi.
You’re probably thinking: “Big deal. What’s your point?”
Patience, Grasshopper. I’m getting there.
First, I want you to get this historic setting: Abraham Lincoln has just been sworn in for a second term. Half the country wants the other half killed. The Civil War is in full swing. About 620,000 men are dead. The newspapers are reporting on nothing but bloodbaths.
‘65 is a dark year, and it only gets darker. Officially, the war is over in April, but battles keep raging. Then six days after the war’s end, Lincoln gets shot. Terror reigns.
In this era, people along the Mississippi River are dying of cholera right and left. 4,500 dead in Saint Louis. 3,000 in New Orleans. And just when it can’t get any worse, Lewis Caroll writes one of the weirdest freaking children’s books ever published, entitled “Alice Must be Trippin’, Dude.”
Stay with me here. What I’m saying is that 1865 is scary, deadly, depressing, horrific, and the bestselling children’s book might as well have been written by Jimi Hendrix.
Then, one chilly morning, you toss open your newspaper and see a humorous story about a frog-jumping contest. Up until today it’s been death tolls, explosions, battlefields, Cheshire cats, etc. But this frog story. It makes you laugh. It even warms you up.
I’ll pause here because you’re probably saying aloud: “Jeez, if I wanted a history lesson, Sean, I would’ve repeatedly slammed my head in a textbook until I required major reconstructive facial surgery.”
I’m telling you all this for two reasons:
1. No matter how bad this world seems, this isn’t 1865.
2. I’m not a Lewis Caroll fan.
Also, because when I was a kid, my family fell apart. My life sucked ditch water. I’ve written about it a lot so there’s no need to rehash it. But during this period I did a lot of reading. Not because I was smart, cuz bleeve me, i ain’t. I was reading because life scared me, and I wanted to escape it.
My mother was very concerned about me, always hiding in my room, reading. I mostly read my favorite books by my favorite author—the same one who wrote the frog story. His books made everything seem brighter, the same way they’d been doing for a century.
So I’ll never forget when early one morning my mother burst into my bedroom announcing at the top of her voice, “Pack your bags! We’re going on a trip!”
This woman had lost her mind. I wasn’t even awake and she already had our car running. She offered no explanations, she simply shoved me into the front seat, butt first, and we drove for what felt like ten days until we arrived in a tiny town called Florida, Missouri.
Florida is a sleepy rural village. There isn’t much going on. My mother shut off the car and said, “Do you know where we are?”
“Egypt?” I said.
“Wherever we are, it sure ain’t Vegas.”
“Why don’t we get out and look around?”
We got out of the car to see a stone pillar bearing a bronze plaque with engraved words upon it that I will never forget:
“Birthplace of Mark Twain, he cheered and comforted a tired world.”
All I could do was touch that plaque. I was standing on the same soil where he’d been born. I was overwhelmed. My mother loved me enough to take me to Florida, and Hannibal, Mark Twain’s old stomping grounds.
I learned something important that day: Even though life terrifies you, even though it can make you sick with worry, simply knowing that somebody loves you makes everything less scary.
So I’m running out of room, but I’ll finish by offering you a serious suggestion. Visit Hartford, Connecticut. You’re only an hour away. Tour the Mark Twain House and Museum. If for no other reason, do it to make me insanely jealous. Do it because America’s coolest author once wrote:
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Don’t be afraid of anything, sweetheart. I love you.