Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"It Is A Dirt Shovel

The two-year-olds made a mysterious discovery. There on the table at the top of the hill was a shovel made of dirt. It looked just like one of the small shovels we use in the sandpit, except that instead of being made of colorful plastic, it was made from dirt.

"It's a shovel. Look, right here." She used her finger to trace the shape in the air above the dirt shovel, not touching it. Her classmates gathered around, likewise not touching it. They studied it in silence for a time, then one of them reached out and attempted to grab the handle, concluding, "I can't pick it up."

No one speculated about where it had come from. I was tempted to ask leading questions, to compare it to one of the actual shovels that had obviously been its template, or to otherwise guide them toward an answer I wanted them to find. Instead, which is usually the better course of action, I remained silent, leaving them with their mystery. We all remained there together for what seemed like at least a couple minutes.

"It's not a shovel," said a boy, one half of a pair of identical twins.

"It is a shovel," replied the girl who had first discovered it.

They were not arguing, but rather each voicing their unique perceptions of reality, framing a question that no one had yet asked. The rest continued to contemplate the mystery. The girl once more traced the dirt shovel's outline with her finger in the air as if confirming things for herself or perhaps for the others.

Finally, the twin said, "It is a dirt shovel."

Whether or not this settled the matter, I'll never know; mysteries are often not things that can be settled in a moment. But whatever the case, the spell was broken and interest was apparently lost. I was sitting on the edge of the table slightly to the side of the shovel outline. They formed a kind of semi-circle around me.

I gave in to my temptation a bit then, echoing what the twin had said by way of putting a little bow on things, "E- said it's a dirt shovel."

He looked at me for a moment, then at his twin brother. "I not E-," he corrected me, "I N- . . . " Then pointing to his brother, "He not N-." Then thoughtfully, as if talking his way toward an epiphany, he pointed to the dirt shovel, "Not a shovel." He looked around, searching, then walked purposefully away, returning with an actual shovel. "Shovel," he said. He pointed to the dirt outline, "Not shovel." The other children seemed to be following his reasoning, thinking their own thoughts. "I not E-" he said as if to himself, "I N-."

The girl who had discovered the dirt shovel, then piped up, pointing at the brother, "He's not N- . . . He's E-."

Then another girl said, pointing at the shovel N- held in his fist, "That's a shovel," then pointing at the outline, "That's a dirt shovel."

We remained silent for a long moment, together with our mysteries, then went our separate ways.

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