By Kelsie Castro
A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not in the branch, but in its wings.”– Unknown
A couple weeks ago as I walked out into the side yard next to our kindergarten classroom, a frantic voice caught my attention. Standing at the door, I could see Ana waving her arms as she called us over to see what she had discovered. Wedged in the small crevice where our building meets the ground was a dead lizard. Seeing the concern on Ana and the other children’s faces, I immediately looked for a way to scoop the lizard up so we could figure out what was next. Following my lead the children started looking for something to hold the lizard’s body and a space where they could give it a proper goodbye.
Taking the lizard to a small bench, I watched as some of the children dug a hole while others gathered materials to make the lizard more comfortable. One by one the children began to deliver different “gifts” that they said the lizard could take wherever it went next. A paper towel and ribbon so its body would feel warm, a leaf so it would have peace, a gem for beauty, and a coin for good luck now sat with our lizard along the edge of the bench, waiting to placed in the hole they had made.
I waited with the children that weren’t digging and talked about all the things we thought may happen to this lizard now. We wondered if it might go to heaven, or become part of the earth, or maybe even transform into something completely new. Listening to each other’s perspectives and ideas, the children agreed that wherever the lizard ended up they wanted it to be happy and safe. Keeping this in mind as they eventually placed the lizard in the hole, each child added a rock and a flower to give the lizard one last moment of happiness before it departed.
In this moment with the children, I was in awe (as I often am) at the amount of love and compassion they displayed for a creature that they hadn’t even known. That endless well of empathy is something I have always admired about children especially in times that could otherwise feel very emotionally heavy. I immediately had the urge to sit down and write about this very special goodbye and the small acts of kindness that the children had given to this lizard in its last moments. As I sat with this experience for a little longer though, I began to realize that it was about so much more than them saying goodbye. It was really a story about new beginnings.
Looking at what I had witnessed through this new lens, so many more thoughts and emotions began to flood my mind. This was partially because of the already sensitive place I was in, having just decided that I would be starting a new beginning of my own, but also because I realized the powerful symbolism in what the children had just done. In times like this when we are forced to say goodbye (be it to a physical life or maybe even just a version of living), it’s those things we can hold onto; the gifts of those past experiences, that help us push forward into the new.
For the children this experience was a transition into a new part of this lizards journey, a moment that would set it on a different path. As I thought about this, I realized that many of us, like this lizard, are on a new path of our own. With how much the world has changed around us recently we are all adjusting and re-adjusting, looking at what the next step looks like and trying to understand how our individual and collective stories will continue as time goes on.
What this experience made me wonder, and what I hope it will make you wonder too, is what “gifts” we take with us as we move into the new. In this time of transition, it’s helpful to consider what parts of our old normal still serve us well and where we hope to grow. To think about what the challenges we face might teach us about ourselves and those around us. And to consider what perspectives our children, true models of resilience, can offer about how to open ourselves up to the new beginnings that lie ahead.