Eight children gathered near the tether-ball pole in a tight little ring. Arm over shoulder over arm, they shrieked, stopped, lunged, stumbled, but advanced. Approximate trajectory: due east. From my remote perch, I could guess their goal – to cross the yard. On the other side, a strip of grass awaited along with the chain link fence. I had to know more. I approached.
The eight had their eyes set not on where they were headed, but on a point and the center of their circle – something I wasn’t close enough to see. However, as I got close enough to hear, I could tell they had come to a decision point. Wait. Stop. No! No! Don’t move. OK now! Go! Go! Go! Five other children- the rest of the ring – followed instructions as best they could.
Seeing me, Timmy, a third grade Samoan boy and ring leader, pulled back his braided black hair, put his index finger to his lips and gave me an order– Shhh! You’ll scare the bug.
At that moment, I saw what they saw at center of their ring – a kind of grasshopper, big as a child’s pinky. Yellow spots on black wings stood out, flapping over long green hopper legs. Then it jumped. Not more than a foot, but enough to make the ring jump along with it. Timmy whispered to me – We’re trying to save it. We need to help it get to the grass.
Meanwhile, Lawrence, a kindergarten boy in a red knit cap and drooping jeans (not part of the ring of eight), approached the ring with a different idea. He, too, saw the bug and zipped around the ring wanting a better view. When the bug jumped and the ring stumbled, Lawrence shot through to the middle. I am the bug man, he shouted. He lifted his little foot and clog-heeled the yellow-dotted-hopping thing into bug meal in one efficient grind. Silence followed. Then shock. Crying. And almost a pummeling that I had to prevent with both hands!
What gives? Isn’t playground wisdom supposed to clap like thunder in moments like these? Maybe something about safety or protection or the collision of conflicting visions? A squished bug had unleashed plenty! Instead, we came to a full stop – witnessing the impact of this small runt of a child – a little, speckle-skinned boy with a hapless name like Lawrence.
Witnessing happens when you open your eyes to allow what you see to enter without filter. Stories, judgments and rationalizations flood in after, but the penetration of initial imprint can reach deep. It can highlight the distance between you and someone else or touch on how little you understand about how and why things happen as they do. Lawrence, I believe, delivered some form of opportunity.
In a bug’s world there is no such thing as waste. Given the shortness of time and the urgency of circumstance, I take biting moments like these and ask what the bug’s guts offered. Today, I got to share in shock. Tonight, I get to reach into that goo, smell it, look at it, and let the juice stay on my skin for a moment. I get to forget about the particulars and sit with how it feels to feel what I feel. That may be how I will come to find gratitude for days where little guys like Lawrence outnumber me nine to one.