Weekend Write-Off

if you want to see a whale

Focus – to the exclusion of everything else.

Being able to tune out any distractions or discouragements apart from the final goal can be accomplishment gold. But if it also means missing out on beautiful sights or moments along the way, the brilliant glow can become a burnished pallor.

This is the risk the main character takes in Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead’s picture book, if you want to see a whale.

On his journey to see the whale, the young boy, with his dog and a bird as companions, passes roses and pirate ships, pelicans and inch worms. He ignores them:

because roses don’t want you watching whales
or waiting for
or wondering about
things that are not pink
and things that are not sweet
and things that are not roses.

If the boy did not ignore the roses, he might have missed the whale that he finally finds on the last page. But he misses the turtle amidst the clouds, a comfy and cozy nap, the lighthouse atop the headland shaped like a whale.

Yet even with all this sacrifice, the boy still almost misses the whale. On the second to last page, he is so busy staring into the sea, he doesn’t see the whale pass right below his rowboat. Ultimately, it is the whale who breaks the surface and peers into the boy’s face.

While preparation and staying the course are essential to achieving goals, there is a certain element of chance that factors into the final result. And if we exclude all way points and detours, a failure at the termination point will be that much more crushing.

I suspect that Fogliano and Stead meant for this story to be a triumphant tale of setting one’s mind to something and seeing it through. And it is. There is a lot to be said for persistence and patience; for courage and consistency.

There is also the flip-side.

It makes me sad to see all the missed opportunities along the way for this young boy. It makes my soul ache for my own missed opportunities throughout any given day. The simple pleasures, invaluable gifts of the here and now. When goal-setting becomes tunnel-vision, mindfulness cannot occur.

If you want to see a whale, it’s pretty amazing. Just don’t miss out on what the waves wash up on the way.

Just one of the gorgeous illustrations.

Just one of the gorgeous illustrations.


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