For years I began the new school year by teaching Carl Stephenson’s short story “Leiningen Vs. the Ants.” Charlton Heston played the role of this character in the movie adaptation, The Naked Jungle. If you know anything at all about Charlton Heston, you know he was good at overcoming obstacles. (I think he also played the role of Moses.)
“Organization is the key to grappling with life,” I repeatedly told my students. Leiningen, the hero of this story, overcame great obstacles by adhering to this adage, and he felt this was the first step toward becoming “master of his fate.”
I wanted to initially impress upon my students the importance of perseverance in their academic studies, and I also wanted them to know life might require a bit of “grappling.”
Warned that soldier ants were headed toward his South American plantation, Leiningen learned how to grapple. He developed a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. He understood the severity of the forces against him and planned accordingly.
How many of us develop even one backup plan, much less two? How have we managed in the midst of this so-called year of “perfect vision?”
Solomon tells us in Proverbs 6:6 to consider the ways of the ant and be wise. They never ever give up! They adapt to whatever life throws their way.
[Leiningen] did not need to be told that ants are intelligent, that certain species even use others as milch cows, watchdogs, and slaves. He was well aware of their power of adaptation, their sense of discipline, their marvelous talent for organization.
This year life has thrown us a pandemic, and fear of the unknown looms over us like an ominous storm cloud. As opening day of the new school year dawns, everyone hopes students and staff stay safe and well. Parents, teachers, administrators, and students are unsure of what lies ahead. However, having a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C, and perhaps a Plan D will see us through. There is hope in the midst of the storm.
Like the ants, we must be able to adapt; but first, we must have faith. (2 Corinthians 5:5)
In Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book Two Bad Ants, a couple of wayward characters decide to abandon their fellow ants and go against the teachings of their queen. As a result, they find themselves in hot (literally boiling) water. Yes, their waywardness gets them in trouble, but their perseverance gets them back on track. They learn their lesson in the end, and they stay loyal to their queen.
This school year, educators, like the ants, may have to march into dark, uncharted woods. They may be required to climb mountains whose peaks they cannot see. They may find themselves in a strange and puzzling world. They may need to paddle hard to keep their heads above the crushing waves of schedule modifications, new policies, and procedures.
We can all better adapt (like the ants) when we consider others before ourselves. Philippians 2:4 encourages us to “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 1 Peter 3:8 also reminds us to “be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble.” These are the characteristics of empathy.
In We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, author Ryan T. Higgins shows children how to be like-minded and love one another. On the first day of school, Penelope Rex worries that her classmates may not like her. Indeed, her classmates are afraid of her because she tries to eat them!
It was NOT the best way to start school. Still, Penelope was determined to have a good first day.
When the tables are turned and a goldfish tries to eat Penelope, she finally understands the importance of seeing life through the other person’s eyes.
As the new school year begins, I encourage everyone to focus on three goals.
First, stay organized. According to Leiningen, being organized is an important step in facing life’s hurdles, and it can help alleviate stress. Having a place for everything and having everything in its place gives you one less thing to worry about. Also, develop your own Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.
Show empathy, and understand that others may be experiencing anxiety just as much as you. Focus your attention on being kind to someone else, and you may forget your own fears. Now is not the time to eat your classmates, your principal, or your co-workers. Don’t get too close to them, for that matter. Keep your distance, but show compassion.
Above all else, have faith. Continue to pray without ceasing. Don’t let the sugary sweetness of temptation lure you away from the One True God. Remember the words of Psalm 18:2: “The Lord is my protector; He is my strong fortress. My God is my protection, and with Him I am safe. He protects me like a shield; He defends me and keeps me safe.”
May less grappling be required of all of us as we go forward into this new month of this memorable year.
Go in peace.
“Follow the Christ the King. Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King.”—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”—Harper Lee
“How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” –William Shakespeare
James 1:3; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Ephesians 2:10; Isaiah 26:3