As many of you know, I've been working on developing story ideas for an Oxherd Boy picture book. One of my first ideas was one on self acceptance. As I introduced in my last post, children are often subjected to comparisons and expectations of themselves that remove them from the present and project them into some future scenario that they might not have direct command of.
I wrote the story called, "The Race," to express the importance of allowing yourself to understand and accept who you are in any moment and recognize that there is much beauty to be found there.
As an initial exercise, I wrote out a (rather long-winded) story and created a number of illustrations to accompany it. You can listen and watch a video on YouTube, and a transcript of the full story is below.
One very hot morning, the Ox, the Boy, and the Rabbit sat together thinking of what to do.
“I have an idea,” said the Rabbit. “Do you remember that bridge we saw when we walked to the Great Falls?”
“I think so,” replied the Boy.
“It ran across a wide, lazy river, and I remember seeing a shady bank. We can go swimming there.”
“That sounds nice,” said the Ox, “but I’d rather not have to carry you there this time.”
The Rabbit bristled. “If I hadn’t gone by the road with you two, I wouldn’t have needed a ride at all,” she huffed. “I could have run through the brush and saved myself hours.”
“Oh, is that so?” chuckled the Ox. “Then let’s run a race, and we’ll see who gets there first today.”
“I’m ready if you are,” replied the Rabbit, getting up with a decided hop.
The Boy frowned at his friends. “I don’t think I will run today,” he declared. “I’m sure to be not only the slowest -- by a lot.”
“Oh,” said the Rabbit. She patted the Boy’s hand. “Don’t worry about it, we can just as well walk there together. Right, Ox?”
They looked at the Ox, where beads of sweat multiplied on his head under the strengthening sun. “Let’s race,” the Boy agreed with a little sigh. “It’s already so hot, let’s just get there before our dear friend melts.”
The Ox laughed and shook out his back. The Rabbit bounced on her hind legs. The Boy stood beside them.
“Ready,” said the Ox. They all crouched down. “Go!”
The Boy shot from the tree with all his might. He could feel his feet striking the ground as he thundered down the hill and across the field. As the dust settled, his friends were nowhere in sight. Though his heart pounded in his ears, he could still hear his thoughts.
“Where have they gone?” they wondered. “How can they already be so far ahead?”
“I must be slower than I thought,” he gasped in between breaths.
“Is this really as fast as we can go?” they taunted him.
“I can’t keep this up,” he replied. “I’m getting tired.” His feet began to flag.
“Why are we slowing down?” they asked, exasperated. “Rabbit and Ox would laugh if they saw us now.”
“I’m going to fall down if I don’t stop,” the Boy cried. He doubled over his knees, gasping lungful after lungful of dry air.
“I have to keep going,” he whimpered.
Pulling himself into an awkward trot towards what he believed to be the direction of the bridge, the Boy soon found there were no thoughts left to bother him at all. There was only the pain in his side, the hotness in his face, and the breaths that seemed to get shallower with every step. Soon, the sun alone consumed the Boy's attention as it burned a path across the sky, conjuring watery waves of heat from the baking earth. At last, the Boy sat down in the middle of the road that held no sign of the promised river. He knew he was lost and cried.
After a while, with his tears finally spent, the Boy looked around and gathered himself together. He decided to turn back. As he rose, the Boy noticed a footpath leading off the main road. [It was half hidden by a low-hanging spruce bush.] Though he was sure it wasn’t the way home, his curiosity would not allow him to leave the entrance unexplored. He crawled through the opening and found himself in a narrow grove that stretched before him like a green tunnel. Delighted with the comfort of shade, the Boy followed the little path as it wound its way through dappled sunlight until he came upon a small glade brimming with wildflowers.
“Oh!” he cried, laughing with delight. “How the Rabbit and the Ox would love this place.” As the Boy’s thoughts drifted to his friends, he felt a pang of guilt that they might already be waiting for him by the river.
“To make up for being so slow,” he said, “I’ll gather a bouquet of flowers for whoever won the race.” He waded into the fragrant bower of greenery. “A bit of sorghum and milkweed for the Ox if he’s the winner. And of course, dandelions for the Rabbit.”
The Boy picked his way through the low-lying ground, smelling the dry sweetness that hung in the air. His hands caressed the flowers as they nodded their heads with a lazy breeze. Wave after wave of insects parted for him as he crossed the length of the meadow.] Arms brimming with gifts for his friends, the Boy found himself on the other end of the grove and continued on his way, humming along with the birds that played unseen in the branches above.
At last, he came to the edge of the grove where it met the road again. There, the Boy saw the valley open up before him and heard water flowing down below. The long, red bridge that he had been looking for was just across the way. A little laugh began to bubble up in his throat and with a lightness he had not felt since before the race that morning, the Boy allowed his laughter to grow and grow until they echoed all around him with their mirth.
With his destination in sight, the Boy trotted down the well-worn road once again, making good time in spite of the heat that reasserted itself.
Then, a pair of voices greeted him as he rounded a little bend.
“Well, there you are!” cried the Rabbit, visibly relieved from her high perch on the Ox's back. “Is everything alright?”
“Of course,” replied the Boy. He looked at his friends. “But what are you doing there? Weren't we to meet at the river?”
“We lost you and decided to turn back and look for you, but you were nowhere to be seen,” explained the Ox. He turned his great frame around and fell into step with the Boy. “But say, where did you get those?” he asked, nosing a patch of sorghum in the Boy's bouquet.
“Oh,” the Boy laughed. He surrendered the flowers to the Rabbit, while keeping some choice morsels to feed the Ox as they walked. “I found the loveliest glade along the way. I stopped to gather these for you.”
The Rabbit buried her face into the flowers. “That's so kind. We should have stayed together in the first place and could have explored this place together,” sighed the Rabbit. “I don't remember who came up with the idea for a race anyhow. What a silly idea, and in all this heat!”
The Boy caught sight of the river and thought of the cool water that awaited them. "The race wasn't so bad… at least not after I stopped caring about running it," he replied with a smile.
And the Rabbit and the Ox agreed.