Chameleons

2016-03-30 08.37.09 smWhen I picked it up on the beach, it was lichen-green. A fist-sized chunk of serpentine that looked all but translucent. It was almost alive.

I brought it back to the campground. As it dried, it lost some of its lustre. It lost its translucence, but remained green.

When we packed up to come home, I took the rock with me, nestled in a cup holder in the car. Leaving the humid, green West Coast, we drove up over the mountains, and back into dry, brown Canterbury.

When I picked the rock out of the car, it was frosty white, with a few sparkles of pyrite in the crevices. Dry and dead.

I think people are like that rock.

When we see them in their own “habitat”—in the place where they feel they belong—they are alive and vibrant. They show their depth and their colours. We see their full beauty.

But when we see a person in a place where they don’t feel like they belong—a place where they’re uncomfortable—they frost over. We see only their surface and little of their beauty. There may be hints—small sparkles in the crevices, if we look closely—but most of their beauty will be hidden.

I used to see this a lot, working at nature centres in the U.S. Teachers would regularly warn me about “problem” children. Kids who were nothing but troublemakers, according to the teachers.

I took special note of these children, because I learned quickly that they were likely to be my best students. Take them out of the classroom where they felt they didn’t belong, and put them in a place where they could shine, and they invariably did. They were often smart, funny, helpful, eager to engage with the subject, and bursting with questions—completely different from the sullen, disengaged, miscreants the teachers viewed them as.

I don’t think their transformation had anything to do with my teaching skills—it was simply that they were more comfortable outdoors, moving around, picking up sticks, throwing rocks. They were in their habitat, and could show their beauty. I wished the teachers could have seen their students’ transformations—most of the time, the teachers sat around drinking coffee while their students were out on the trails. I don’t think they believed me when I told them how marvellous their “problem” students were.

Take my word for it. This rock is beautiful.2016-03-30 08.40.54 sm

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