Saturday, June 11, 2016

Graceland in the Milkweed

"I've reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland, in Graceland ...
I'm going to Graceland" 
--Paul Simon, Graceland

Searching for monarch eggs and larva

This past week, was our last week in school and we spent time in a nearby milkweed patch.  A few days earlier (May 28th), several students (and I) reported seeing adult monarchs.  We knew that if there were adults, there would be eggs. We carefully turned over leaves looking for signs of monarchs.  Even without finding signs of monarchs, it was a success.  Throughout the year we have been learning about the common insects, plants and birds of our neighborhood.  Walking to this patch we were able to use the lessons we had learned to enjoy the walk and the wandering.  Earlier that week, we spent time digging up baby milkweed in the school lawn and transplanting it into our new butterfly garden.  My students felt like heroes saving the plants from the lawn mower.  What a wonderful way to be a hero and what a perfect way to close the school year.  

While my students were searching for signs of monarch, Paul Simon's song, Graceland started rolling through my head.  "I'm going to Graceland; For reasons I cannot explain there's some part of me want to see Graceland; And I may be obliged to defend, every love, every ending;  Or maybe there's no obligations now;  Maybe I've a reason to believe;  We all will be received, In Graceland. . . "  There seemed something very much like grace in the milkweed patch this week.  Watching us all intent on finding monarch eggs or larva amidst the weeds, hoping to give them a bit of a better chance in our rearing cage. . . It felt like we were all in this web of life together . . . the students, the butterflies, the weeds . . . and we all needed each other.

One day this past January, a student came up to me during math.  He looked at the table that our monarch rearing cage use to sit and said, "I miss our monarchs."  I stopped and looked into his deep brown eyes and said, "So do I . . . they will be back."  It was one of those small moments that stuck with me and I know that I will never forget.  This student has what could be called a less than adequate childhood.  As a result, he has an anger and a hopelessness that seems to reflect something like PTSD.  Schoolwork is hard, relationships are hard, life is hard.  I won't share the details, to preserve his privacy, but this is not uncommon.  There are so many children who suffer from a less that adequate childhood, he is just one example.  When he said, "I miss our monarchs," it felt like for a moment he had shed his skin a bit and he shared his battered heart with me.  That moment felt like grace.

This is what I think. . . there is something grace-filled in the very ordinary things in life . . .  When we realize that common insects and weeds are amazing, we realize that everything is amazing.  I'd love to believe that studying monarchs and milkweed helps my students understand this idea.  It felt as if this one student did understand and he did know that the monarchs help remind us that we too are good enough. . .We are all, in some sense, like the common insects and weeds in this life and we are all amazing.  Although so many of us struggle, feeling a bit like failures or less than good enough in a world where we are often reduced to numbers and scores, the milkweed patch reminds us that we are more than that.  We are not failures, we all will be received in Graceland. . .  and we are all amazing.  I would like to believe that this student learned there is hope and a bit of grace in this life by studying the common insects and weeds in the field.  If you wonder if you are good enough . . . here is what I suggest. . . walk through a patch of milkweed in search of monarch eggs and feel how amazing this web of life we inhabit really is and you too will have reason to believe;  We all will be received, In Graceland. . . 

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