One day, a squirmy thing full of legs and brown stripes was carried into my classroom. It was a caterpillar, but an unusual one. Shades of brown and tan patterned its body, giving it a snake-like appearance. The children were awed at the strand protruding from its end. Was it a hair? Or maybe a tail?
Our new pet nestled into a glass jar. Before long, another one of its kind was found to join it. We learned they were sphynx caterpillars. They needed leaf juices from the tree with sacuanjoche flowers that stood on our playground. The students nurtured them, stuffing huge leaves into the opening of the jar. The efforts paid off, for the caterpillars stretched greatly in length. Thick white feet carried their plump bodies over the arms of their owners and around in the jar.
Then one day, huddled beside the leaves, lay one caterpillar–black and dry and still. What happened? we wondered. At last we pitched it onto the dust outside. One tender-hearted lass buried it as a final gesture of affection.
The other caterpillar continued to grow. Then one day, he disappeared. We spotted him beneath a cluster of leaves. He was dry, much as the other one had been. What now? We clung to a bit of patience and decided to save him just a little longer.
Not long after, we saw it: a beautiful cocoon in that clump of stuff. Brilliant orange lines contrasting with black glowed through the shell. Thrilled, we watched and hoped and watched some more. One weekend, with no big eyes peering into its transparent home, our caterpillar wrestled out of its cocoon. It hung on the side of the jar, alone. It perched, a sphynx moth at last, with a fuzzy appearance of whites, blacks, and browns. The next week, the students released it into fresh air and blue sky, where it belonged. No more barriers holding him back. He was free to soar!
What about his former companion? Perhaps we had buried him in the middle of his life cycle! Had we given up hope too soon?
Around this time, my co-teacher and I stood outside the door at the beginning of recess. Branson, a first-grader, skipped around the corner past us on his way to play.
My co-teacher commented on his happy expression. “That boy has really changed,” she said. “He’s not as bratty as he used to be.”
Slightly surprised, I considered her words. And I remembered.
One day, several months earlier, Branson had entered my classroom. He was a first-grader, a five-year-old barely beyond toddler stage. In academics he was sharp, but in social interaction he lacked. He amused the other students by chasing dragonflies during recess and annoyed them by picking fights. “I am not caught!” he whined during recess. He clashed with a classmate who was also high-strung.
I tried to calm him down. I tried to stay calm myself as I dealt with the combined wills and energies of all my students. I reminded and lectured and put marks on the board for misbehavior. I asked a veteran teacher for advice and spilled my frustration to Mom. “I’m a teacher, not a mom!”
Now, looking back, I could see a difference. Branson’s cocoon was splitting open, and he was finding freedom to soar above life’s petty annoyances. The change had been so gradual that I had barely noticed it.
Yes, we still had our recess struggles. But they were not nearly as bad as they had been. What if I could not have seen results in April because I thought Branson impossible to deal with in January? What if I had given up hope too soon?
I thank God for the special people who have not given up hope on me. Those special people have prayed for me throughout the years, through telephone lines and across countries, during sunrise hours and twilight shades. They have kept on loving and encouraging no matter what. They have blessed my life more than I realize.
I want to be one of those people—one who does not throw away a work in progress. One who sees beyond what a child is now. One who keeps urging and loving despite another mess-up. One who recognizes the most itsy-bitsy step toward improvement. One who sees the likeness of God in a child, despite his immaturity. One who beholds a splendid moth in a humble caterpillar.
CONTRIBUTOR: Faith Michelle Beiler