March 10, 2011

Crayons, Childhood, and Compassion

I failed art in kindergarten. I’m not proud of it. I simply couldn’t tell the difference between the color orange and the color red.
Today I ponder this as I sit in a tiny yellow chair at a church kindergarten day-care. I am having one of the most intellectual conversations with my new friend: 6-year-old Matt. We are coloring. Well, he is. I promised a friend I would show up and read a story to the children. I’m done reading, but currently I’m looking through a box of crayons. The variety of colors is amazing! Matt shares his knowledge of “deep ocean blue” and “winter white snowflake.”
I ask him, “When did crayons get so diverse?”
This led to a meaningful conversation about colors. I admit to him my “failed art” situation. With a confused expression he asks, “Why would you not know the difference between orange and red?”
So I tell him about my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Blakney. She would give us handouts with square images and little words underneath each that said: YELLOW, BLUE, RED, etc., in big bold letters. All we had to do was color the squares with the right color. This wasn’t confusing to me, except when it came to the page with red and orange squares.
2011 1507 page25Matt is riveted by my story (or maybe he’s tired of coloring).
“What did you do?” he asks.
“Actually,” I say, “it’s not what I did; it was what Mrs. Blakney did. One day she brought to class two items: an orange and an apple. During our coloring time she placed them on my desk and explained the difference.”
Matt leans in and whispers, “Did you cry?”
“Yes. But Mrs. Blakney was so happy when I completed the coloring handouts correctly that she gave me a smiley face sticker that read ‘good job.’”
Matt looks at me with wide eyes. “Cool.”
The story done, we return to coloring. Matt begins to tell me about “lima bean green,” then pauses. “Do you think you learned how to color because of a nice teacher?” he asks.
“Absolutely!” I say. “She was kind. She noticed I was having a difficult time and gave me special attention. She helped me.”
Our coloring is interrupted by a small crash of boxes at the end of the room. One of Matt’s friends has accidentally dropped a bucket of crayons all over the hardwood floor while attempting to place the bucket in its proper cubbyhole. The shock has brought tears to the child’s eyes. Nobody moves. Yet the obvious movement I fail to notice is that of an innocent child of God, seamlessly absorbing the process of kindness and sensing the emotional urgency of his friend. Wrote Ellen White: “He [God] will give them [children] His grace and His Holy Spirit. . . . He desires them to be His little missionaries, denying their own inclinations and desires for selfish pleasure to do service for Him” (The Adventist Home, pp. 486, 487).
Without hesitation, Matt approaches the crayon wreckage and puts an arm around his friend. “It’s totally cool,” says Matt. “I can help you put these back, and we’ll both carry the bucket to the cubbyhole. That way it won’t be too heavy.”
I watch as they work together. I hear Matt comfort his friend: “This crayon is called ‘yellow sunshine.’ Isn’t it pretty? Don’t cry. It’ll be OK. This one is called ‘orange blossom’; I don’t like it. But I’ll use it if I have to.”
A half hour goes by. They are looking through books. Matt’s friend’s mother has arrived. I watch as Matt helps his friend collect his belongings and waves goodbye. It’s a tender moment to watch him stare at the car as it pulls away from the parking lot and disappears down the road.
Matt looks my way and smiles. “I think everyone should get help with crayons and colors. Like you. I just think it’s cool.”
He’s right. On any given day anyone could drop the crayons, or something else, and you would be moved by the Spirit to do the obvious: to be a child.
Dixil Rodríguez, a college English professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas. This is article was published March 10, 2011.