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Being the White Rat:
a story about vocation

Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold tells this story from his childhood.

When he was about six years old, his school presented a musical production based on the tale of the Pied Piper. Like all of the younger children, he was to be part of the rat chorus, which had a rather elaborate dance to perform as they followed the piper.

“I was so proficient at the rat dance,” he says, “that I was cast as the lead rat. As the lead rat, I wore a white rat costume.”

All went well until the dress rehearsal, when he panicked, realizing that as the White Rat, he would be the focus of everyone’s attention. He simply couldn’t do it, so a bolder classmate agreed to take the role.

The new White Rat was a much larger child, who squeezed himself into the white rat costume, while little Frank put on his friend’s too-large costume as one of the plain gray rats in the chorus.

“As I twisted and flailed in the intricacies of the rat dance,” he recalls, “I decided: I will never again say no out of fear.”

He says that when he became presiding bishop, he stood for the first time on the patio of his apartment atop the Episcopal Church Center and remembered that decision never to fear saying yes to a call to leadership, amazed at where it had brought him.

April 2005

Vocation (The Song of the White Rat)--for The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold

It's a cozy life in the chorus line--
just a plain gray rat like all the rest,
no solo turns, no spotlight's shine,
no putting a talent to the test.

If you shuffle your feet and sway in place,
you can look like dancing (just about),
and you'll swell the ranks and fill the space--
and if you should stumble, who'd find out?

But center stage, where the dance commences,
the White Rat's got no place to hide;
he's dancing there without defenses--
he's dancing out the dance inside.

Oh, the White Rat's life is a fearful calling;
you make it up as you go along;
the choreography's appalling--
a thousand ways to dance it wrong--
and out in front there's risk of falling,
but out in front's where you belong.
You've heard the song.
You are the song.

Mary W. Cox
April 1999

© Mary W. Cox 2005


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