I spent the day on a field trip with 60 first graders, ecstatic to have escaped the confines of the classroom, especially on a day where expectations ran high for older students engaged in the Texas version of child torture, a high stakes test called the TAKS. I've been on testing day field trips before. The normal destinations around town burst at the seams with seas of swarming children outfitted in rainbows of matching t-shirts. Invariably, the end result for the chaperones, after a long loud bus ride and a hot day herding cats, turns out to be tired feet and a pounding head. But the smiles on our darlings' faces because mom or dad came along on an adventure outweigh any sacrifice on our part.
But today turned out differently. We traveled about an hour outside of the city limits, into the rolling hills of the horse country just to our north. And we didn't have to ride the bus! All our little darlings and their teachers fit on one bus, but taking parents on the bus would have necessitated another bus, charged at $4 a mile! So we parents suffered our fate and carpooled with our coffee in hand. The kids seemed to survive the trip just fine without us. And to my complete surprise, when we arrived at our destination - we were the ONLY ones there. We had 128 acres, scores of fascinating animals, and the attention of the highly qualified staff all to ourselves.
We interacted with baby kangaroos and watched a queen lemur (who knew King Julian only existed in Disney fantasy?) climb and jump with her twin babies clinging to her body. We learned about noctural animals, marveled as a bearcat hung by its tail, and discovered the super-long tongue and pollinating function of the kinkajou. We watched zebras and deer and the ancestors of the llama eat just paces from our safari car, and got to pet some beautiful draft horses and less beautiful but very interesting camels. Sharkarosa is a wildlife sanctuary, taking rescued animals, nursing zoo animals that need extra attention, and working to preserve some endangered species. I know there are mixed opinions about the merit and virtue of these places. I have no political statement to make. But the staff at Sharkarosa obviously loves each and every animal there and loves sharing their knowledge with the kids.
But what I took out of the day came from the laughter and the wonder on the face of my kid and the kids in my charge for the day. The experiential learning, being outside, seeing, touching, experiencing just lit each of them from the inside. So often they are told to look and not touch, to stand at a distance, to listen and learn - and they follow the rules but don't learn a thing. Today, they touched and smelled and observed up close instead of from far away, and they loved every minute of the learning they didn't even realize they were doing.
The blogosphere seems to pick up a theme and run with it for a while... right now, the theme that resonates is BE PRESENT. I watched six and seven year-olds do just that today. They could not have been less concerned with what came before or what was next, they reveled in the moment. They engaged their senses to live and to learn about their world. And for a few hours, I found myself able to do the same.
This story of mine, this journey I'm on, sometimes causes me to wallow around stuck in the past or worry about the future. Re-visioning my faith sometimes makes me feel as if the ground under my feet shifts constantly. But I think I saw today, in the faces of first-graders absorbed in life, what Jesus meant when he said we need to become like little children before we can experience heaven, even if he's never chaperoned a first grade fieldtrip to a little place called Sharkarosa.