Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Meaning Of Life

I suppose people everywhere have mixed feelings about squirrels. Many years ago, I was preparing to read a non-fiction book about these adaptable creatures to the class when one boy stopped me with a raised hand: "Squirrels are evil."

I sort of nodded my acknowledgement by way of moving on, when I saw another hand go up, this time from a girl who rarely spoke, especially in front of everyone at circle time: "Why are squirrels evil?"

This lead to more hands and a wide-ranging discussion about not how "evil" squirrels are. Not whether they were evil, but just how evil and in what manner their evil manifested itself. They were not sharing their own independently formed opinions. It was quite clear that these were things that had been overheard in their families, jokes and grumblings from homeowners who were tired of dealing with these cute creatures that seem to thrive alongside us in urban environments.

There are a number of squirrels that live in and around our playground. They have become particularly active this year. There are even a couple with the courage to race through our space while the kids are playing. Even the crows don't do that. All of this would be fine, except that more often than not, when we spy them, they're carrying peanuts in their mouths and littering the place with the shells. Obviously, someone in the neighborhood, someone who doesn't think squirrels are evil, is feeding them. This is a problem because we are a peanut-free school and there are at least two of our kids who are severely allergic -- even touching a peanut can send them to the hospital.

The adults in the community aren't really sure what to do other than to police the grounds for peanut debris, but the kids have been taking action. At first, they just chased the squirrels away, but lately they've been working on traps.

We started with simple holes in the ground, baited with things we thought might be attractive, but as our failures have mounted we've become increasingly elaborate and collaborative in our efforts. To the naked eye, many of our traps look like piles of junk, the sort of thing I've heard colleagues call "learning piles," but if you ask any of the kids about them, they can go on at great detail about how it's meant to work. Of course, what we're really building are experiences of joyful collaboration.

Among the classic "big questions" is "What is the meaning of life?" I tend to think the answer is this, building squirrel traps together. It's what humans do when not being goaded by the selfishness and greed of conflict and competition mongers. We come together around a challenge or a dream, sharing our best thinking, sharing our labor, sharing our failures and successes. It's all about working on projects with the other people. Some of our projects are the work of a lifetime, some of just a day, but in the end I'd say the time we spend working on projects with the other people are the times we come closest to the meaning of life.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's been 47 years since I sold my first piece of Art. Admittedly, I have made a mess of the one opportunity I've had at Life. Art, I've crushed.