15. Little Big Heart
It is the small, magnified, life focusing moments that seem to have the greatest impact on a child’s life. It is the little big things that make a difference. It may be a moment between a teacher and a child, when that child feels they are recognized, understood and confirmed; and because of that moment the boy or girl feels a deep sense of encouragement.
Perhaps you remember one or two of these moments for you as a child. It may have been an unexpected kindness or a flash of understanding. Perhaps you suddenly saw things a certain way for the first time and it has continued to be so to this very day! Before the age of 12 or so, these magnified moments are life printing. One moment can determine the direction of an entire life.
As a teacher, a parent, a friend or mentor, it is all about connecting to the children in your care; to listen for, witness, catch and confirm the little big moments in the lives of children. Here is a story about one such instance in a little boy’s life.
There was once a ten year old boy who, like so many boys, loved to spend all his free time outdoors in the woods and open prairies where he grew up. For his tenth birthday he was given a fancy slingshot. He got pretty good at using it. He could hit a target from ten, then twenty, then thirty feet away…mostly tin cans, glass bottles and stuff like that.
On this occasion he was up in the mountains on a camping trip with his family. One afternoon he went adventuring off into the forest by himself. He spotted a chipmunk and decided he would hunt it down with his slingshot. Now understand that this boy grew up in a family and culture that considered hunting to be a recreational sport. He often went with his father on long monotonous pheasant hunting trips in the huge cornfields of the eastern plains. He had never killed anything though. But this day he was going to hunt and kill something in his own right. Proud victorious hunter!
He followed the chipmunk through the forest for nearly an hour or so. What was amazing is that the longer he pursued the chipmunk, the more it trusted him. Finally it allowed him to get to within seven feet where the boy sat and watched and talked to this beautiful creature for a while. They looked each other in the eyes. There was a warmth and connection between them.
The boy was torn now. It was amazing to be so close to this totally wild animal. How could he kill it, especially when it trusted him so? The boy decided. He raised his slingshot, took aim and fired. The rock hit the chipmunk square on. It rolled off the boulder it had been perched on and fell to the ground limp and lifeless. The boy crawled up to it, immediately realizing what he had done. He touched its warm and soft furry chipmunk body. Its eyes looked at him now empty and void of expression. The boy realized he had just broken some kind of code. He started to cry and then to sob uncontrollably. He realized fully what he had done.
He buried the little creature, his friend the chipmunk, and he buried his slingshot too, promising to himself, to the mountains and the trees that he would never kill another living thing.
This was a totally life focusing moment for that boy. He could not tell anyone about it for what seemed like the longest time. Who would really understand how he felt? He knew irrevocably that hunting for the thrill and sport of it was fundamentally wrong. It caused him to distrust those who thought it was OK. The boy could not understand how that could be so.
The only person he could talk to about what happened was his sixth grade teacher nearly two years later. She somehow managed to draw the story out of him by being one of those rare deep listeners. He told her the story and how it made him feel. She gave him a special name from that point on. The name was Little Big Heart.
That is one teacher, who in one little big moment made an important difference in a child’s life.