Dr. Seuss’ fourth book was published in 1940 and met with critical acclaim. It features an elephant whose large ears and long trunk provided the ideal infrastructure for the artist’s distinct lumps and humps.
Today, the homely hero of “Horton Hatches The Egg” feels like a symbol of what we are sorely lacking in a culture that sets us up to be flighty and fickle. He reminds me of a Gospel principle I have found more challenging now that I’m a parent.
The Dr. Seuss tale begins when a lazy bird, Mayzie, becomes bored sitting on her egg and recruits Horton to take over, vowing to return soon. He agrees and pledges loyalty.
His resolve is tested the first night with a wicked storm.
“This isn’t much fun,” remarks Horton, perched on the nest and soaking wet.
Once Mayzie lands in Palm Beach, she decides to stay. Winter arrives, and Horton is covered in icicles. “But Horton kept sitting and said with a sneeze, ‘I’ll stay on this egg and I won’t let it freeze. I meant what I said and I said what I meant…an elephant’s faithful 100 percent!’”
From his perch on the egg, Horton endures endless abuse. At each hardship, he repeats his promise as a pep talk: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant…an elephant’s faithful 100 percent!” His identity becomes his mantra.
Horton lands in a traveling circus. Lo and behold, after 51 weeks of dutifully warming that egg, it begins to hatch just as Mayzie happens upon them. She claims ownership of the egg, which shatters and stuns, revealing a winged baby elephant.
Dr. Seuss asserts the rightness of the outcome: “And it should be, it should be, it should be like that! Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat! He meant what he said and he said what me meant…and they sent him home happy, 100 percent!”
Horton’s statement has since been borrowed by politicians selling straight talk, never bothering to credit Seuss. They could also cite the Bible, where the principle was first articulated. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are presented a teaching on oaths: “Make good to the Lord all that you vow” (Matthew 5:33). And then comes a memorable verse: “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”
I remember reading this as a girl and finding it simplistic. Yes means yes, no means no—yeah, yeah, got it.
I find it much harder as an adult, fielding invitations and opportunities that seem fine and lovely but are actually demands on my time and threats to my priorities. Putting first things first, I’ve come to realize, is no small feat.
As a parent, it’s even harder to say what I mean and mean what I say. My reflex is to respond as quickly as possible, not necessarily as thoughtfully. There have been times I’ve answered a young child without knowing what I have just agreed to.
I’m learning the value of taking a pause to give myself space for thinking—and to let my kids see that. I’m discovering the merit of a response like, “I don’t know yet” and “Let me think about it.” And I’m trying to halt my fast-talking, people-pleasing impulse long enough to size up a commitment before saying yes or no.
In the end, we are defined by the promises we keep. I want mine to honor the values and people I hold dear. When the going gets tough and I’m covered in ice like Horton, I want to “make good to the Lord,” repeating my promises as a pep talk, embracing my vocation, turning my identity into a mantra—100 percent.