ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

"I WON'T GIVE UP ON HIM"

I recently heard about a father who was working outside his home when he noticed his 5-year-old daughter sprawled on the driveway, completely focused on the cement in front of her.

Curious, he strolled up behind her to see what was so mesmerizing. There on the driveway a caterpillar was making its way across what, for it, was a vast expanse, fraught with obstacle and danger. The girl was absolutely spellbound, watching as the creature's tiny legs and body propelled its slinky way to . . . well, wherever it was going.

"Caterpillars sure are interesting, aren't they?" the father said at last.

The little girl didn't take her eyes off the driveway. She just grunted: "Uh-huh."

"It looks like it would take a lot of work to move like that, doesn't it?" Dad asked.

"Uh-huh."

He understood. He remembered the fascination of watching creeping things crawl as a boy. They quietly watched for a few minutes, as the caterpillar struggled to negotiate a wide crack in the pavement. "Before too long," the father noted, "he won't have to worry about big cracks like that."

"Why not?" the girl wondered.

"He'll just fly over the top of it," Dad said.

For the first time, the little girl looked up. "Nuh-uhhhh," she said. "Caterpillars don't fly."

"You're right -- they don't," Dad replied. "But they turn into butterflies, and you've seen how well butterflies can fly."

"Nuh-uhhhhh," the little girl said. "You're teasing."

"It's the truth," Dad said. "You can ask Mom. One of these days this caterpillar will build a little home for itself called a cocoon, and then he'll go to sleep for a while. When he wakes up he'll crawl out of his cocoon, only by then he will have turned into a butterfly, and he'll fly away."

His daughter was suspicious. "Daddy, is this sort of like that tooth fairy story?"

"No, sweetheart," he replied, "this is true. It's really going to happen. Honest."

"Well, OK," she said. Then she smiled and turned her attention back to the caterpillar. "I was worried about him," she said. "But if he's really going to be able to fly, I won't give up on him."

All of us find ourselves occasionally limited by mortality. Sometimes we're forced by circumstances to move slowly, struggling to overcome each new obstacle in our way. At other times we encounter limitations that are even more restrictive, binding us in a cocoon of disability, depression or hardship. At such times the easiest solution would be to simply give up. And while I understand why some choose to do exactly that, I am in awe of those who refuse to surrender to life's vicissitudes. Like the caterpillar that emerges from its confining chrysalis to spread its wings as a beautiful butterfly, they burst free of the constraints mortality imposes upon them. And they fly.

Which is not to imply that one who refuses to give up in the face of adversity will always emerge victorious. That would be unrealistic, and reality must occasionally have its due. But an amazing number of courageous folks do overcome, even though it's impossible to know in advance which ones will. And the funny thing is, those who "lose" still gain much from trying -- so who's to say they haven't really won, after all?

In a world where earth-bound caterpillars end up soaring with the birds, you learn not to give up on anyone who hasn't already given up on themselves.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.