There were five little pumpkins sitting on my desk, waiting to play their part in the live action version of their famed visit to the gate, starring my St. Joan of Arc library students.
Each pumpkin was unique in one way or another, but you had to look closely to find the nuances between four of the five. The runt was a half inch shorter than the others. Another was slightly flat on one side. (Probably due to laziness.) All of the stems were different lengths and widths. Their wrinkles and dimples were as varied as clouds at dusk.
One pumpkin stood out. It had an additional growth at its top, next to its stem, about the size of a baby carrot. There was a hint of green on its ridges. When all five of the pumpkins were lined up, this one’s flaws were so blatant that the minor differences between the other four disappeared. “The fifth little pumpkin” as we dubbed it, absorbed all of the attention.
The students were curious about the protrusion. “What’s wrong with it?” they asked. “Nothing’s wrong with it,” I said, “but someone might tell you that there’s a genetic defect. All that means is that the cells that made this pumpkin grow didn’t get the message about what a pumpkin usually looks like. So, they chose to create something extra special. Isn’t it beautiful?”
While the students continued to marvel over the fifth little pumpkin, I thought about how the students’ curiosity revealed pivotal innocence that if harnessed early enough could translate to a lesson in visible diversity. How could students learn to accept people with skin colors, birthmarks, and physical characteristics related to various conditions present at birth, such as Down Syndrome?
Far too many adults are quick to make judgments about people with atypical faces and bodies. Some of those people are irresponsible and whisper comments about the kid with the freckles or the bald woman living with alopecia. For some reason they feel uncomfortable and want to pass their insecurity on to their children.
In my classroom, we don’t make fun of people for things they cannot change about themselves, like their names, the way they talk, or their physical appearances. Just about every student I’ve ever taught has respected that rule while they are in my presence. I hope and pray that some of them have carried that kindness into their lives outside of school.
God made all of us and every living thing. He is perfect, but all of us have our defects. They’re what make us special. Even pumpkins.