He’d been watching them closely, like he watched most people. Standing just beyond the quickly-flowing current, he’d observed the kids on the play structure. Climbing up ladders, sailing down slides, zipping across the shaky bridge, gliding down the pole. Finishing on one side and running around to the other to do it all again.

Mostly he watched the kids on the monkey bars. Day after day they’d climb the steps, grab ahold of the first one and then, bar by bar, swing their way easily to the other side. ‘Most every kid who tried was able to do it – and anyone who couldn’t simply dropped to the ground and ran to the other end to start over again.

He watched them all.

He had the idea to go down on a Saturday, when none of the other kids would be there. It was true: when they got there, it was just him, Mom and Dad. Well, over on the grass there was a man playing fetch with his dog, but that was far away.

He climbed the steps. He looked at the bars. They were high up, and there were a lot of them. He remembered the ease with which the other kids played on them. In his mind’s eye he saw the ones who’d gone across yesterday, at recess: Leah, Anthony, Jacob, Casey…

They were made of metal. The silvery steel reflected the sunlight. The birds chirped over by the trees, and the breeze blew softly on his skin. Above him the clouds floated across the sky. His parents stood a distance away, speaking quietly to each other.

Ever so slowly, he reached his arms upward. His hands opened, a new butterfly trying out its wings, and wrapped themselves tentatively around the first bar.

*          *          *

I wrote the above essay when Joseph started kindergarten two years ago. The intensity with which Joseph watched the kids on the monkey bars, and the need to try it only when he felt completely safe, really struck me.

For two years now, Joseph’s had a challenging relationship with the monkey bars. That first day he simply put his hands on the bar, but, slowly, he’s gone a little further. For about a year he’d put both hands on a bar and call it done. Then he began holding the bar, stepping off the ladder, hanging for a bit and dropping down. He continued to do this while kids years younger than him swung across with ease.

Here are two things I so admire about Joseph: he never gave up and he never got down on himself. If I’d been in his position, it would be a foregone conclusion that, if so many peers and kids younger than me could do it and I couldn’t, there must be something wrong with me. When I was in Girl Scouts we learned to sew, and there was one knot I just couldn’t grasp. In the Girl Scout handbook it said, Note: Handicapped children may not be able to learn this knot. Therefore, I was secretly convinced that I was handicapped. It took me years to get over that one.

Not my Joseph. Butterflies don’t get weighed down by much.

Yesterday the butterfly flew. He made it across those monkey bars, and back, and across and back, and across and back, a hundred times.

It seemed like he’d always been able to do it. And just as it wasn’t a big deal to him when he couldn’t do the monkey bars, it is also not a big deal that now he can. It’s fun and it’s great, and he called Blue Eyes to announce the fact, but it doesn’t define him as a person.

Wow. What a lesson for people like me. I mean, butterflies don’t think they’re worms because they haven’t yet flown. They stay present. They enjoy the breeze flowing by; they practice moving their wings. When the time is right, and only when the time is right, they lift off.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Almost makes you trust, doesn’t it? 😉

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