I will never forget Ben. He was a 2nd grader that I had as a student when I was teaching gardening in schools. There was a white picket fence surrounding the Edible Schoolyard Garden where raised beds stood managed by the 5 different elementary classes. On the first day Ben's class was to come out into in the garden, he held back behind the fence. The other students poured into the garden under the passionflower vine trellis that ushered them into what was for most their happiest spot on campus! But not Ben. I invited him in, but he declined. I could see him eyeing the fat, lazy bumblebees that liked to make their beds in the umbrel shape of the passionflowers. Ben was rooted right outside the fence, watching his classmates but unwilling to risk what he thought would be a certain sting or some other not-yet-calculated danger.
We began our tasks of measuring new seedlings, harvesting and snacking, and preparing to do some cooking. The energy from the children was rising up from the garden like a sweet sacrifice of joy. Ben held his place, but his eyes were very wide.
Suddenly one child exclaimed that there was a butterfly with only one wing on one of the zinnia flowers. There was no way it could fly away from any threat such as a hungry bird. All the children begin to chatter about this, and about how to rescue the fated butterfly. Some proposed that we should just leave it, while others suggested that we could put it into our indoor butterfly habitat. The consensus was that we should attempt to rescue it and let the butterfly live out its days protected in the indoor habitat. I could tell that Ben was keenly interested in this for he was seeing a broken creature whose safety also felt threatened. I encouraged the children to invite Ben into this process somehow. They conferenced together and decided that they would invite Ben to be the one to carry the broken butterfly indoors and place it into the habitat.
After Ben heard this privileged proposal he broke loose from his concrete footing and moved slowly toward the butterfly. He reached out to touch its wing, which it allowed him to do since it could not fly away. I asked him if it would be alright for me to place it in his hand and with very wide eyes he agreed. We all begin the solemn and yet excited processional return to the classroom and to our indoor butterfly habitat.
Everyone gathered around the glass enclosure, expressing their appreciation and admiration for how Ben was so carefully handling the broken butterfly. Ben gently put his hand down into the aquarium and placed the butterfly onto some zinnias that we had there in a vase. His face was radiant and full of wonder. The children all congratulated him on overcoming his fear in order to help this tiny creature. His smile lit up the room. Ben would check on that butterfly everyday when he first came into the classroom. On future trips to the garden, he did not hesitate to enter. He had found his high calling, a steward of the earth and its creatures which is the joyful duty of every human being. Gardens are for children, and children are for gardens, and the magic of that combination is the gift for every adult privileged enough to witness it.