Several years ago, I taught eighth grade in the gifted program at a school with a population that qualified our suburban location as “inner city.” I had this one little British boy that year that stood out. John couldn’t have been more than four feet tall, the stack of books in his arms frequently bypassing his eyebrows. He was very quiet and gentle and spoke with coolest accent as he shared his brilliant insights. He was safe on our gifted team; we had many kids who fell outside the norm and this group was very accepting of differences.
But that wasn’t necessarily the case with the rest of the school. I worried for my kids when they were in the halls and the lunchroom with the greater population. I feared they would fall sway to bullies or worse.
But John taught me not to worry.
One day, another student was put in John’s science class for the day as a form of consequence. This student was built like an NFL linebacker and had the temper of a taunted cobra. The science teacher, who had a nature even more gentle than John, sat the punished student at a table in the back of the room.
But the table was already occupied.
A large glass aquarium filled all but a thin, four inch strip of the table. A strip where this student would be completing his work. Inside the aquarium was a large tarantula, that just happened to be crawling on the front wall of the aquarium when the student sat down.
Panicked, he turned to the kid who was closest to him. John.
“Is this thing safe? I hate spiders, man,” his eyes belying the terror just beneath the surface.
“You see those fangs,” said John in a British-tinged whisper, “They use them to pump venom into your body that liquefies your flesh and then they suck out the juices.” This was illustrated with his fingers, just in case the other boy didn’t quite get the picture.
“But don’t worry,” said John with a small smile, “I think the lid will hold.”
And with those words, our little David defeated that Goliath.
For the rest of that year, I saw the bigger boy act in deference to little John in the hallways and in the cafeteria. I’m sure the other students and teachers looked on quizzically, wondering how this diminutive child defeated one of the tougher kids in the school.
What they failed to realize is that strength is not always visible on the surface. That true toughness comes from an ability to reason, use what you have at your disposal and a determination to see the challenge through to the end. And that is something we can all do, even if we can’t see over the load we carry.