I’ve always been fascinated with sheep. The Scriptures identify us as the sheep of God’s pasture, and for good reason. They are dumb creatures and have a knack for following the wrong crowd and getting themselves into trouble. They are skittish, and spook and panic easily. No wonder they need a Shepherd to look after them. I remember walking a country lane and coming up on a flock of sheep grazing on a hillside. I stopped to admire them and then decided to capture them in a photo. As I raised my camera, they stopped their grazing, and froze in place, watching me intently. I could see the near panic in their eyes. They weren’t sure what this stranger was up to. All it took was the almost imperceptible click of my camera, and they all turned tail in mass and stormed down the hill in a stampede. I was rather amused at the entire scene, until I reminded myself that I, too, was “one of the flock.”
I always rather prided myself in staying cool, calm and collected in stressful situations, especially in my teaching career when I was given my own little “flock” to watch over. However, I do remember a few occasions when I failed miserably. One of my teaching assignments found me in Guayaquil, Ecuador teaching second grade English in a private Spanish school. Every day brought some challenge or other where I had to rise to the occasion, whether it was killing a scorpion crawling out of a student’s book bag, or chasing an iguana out of my classroom with a broom. (This was rather fascinating as I hadn’t realized that iguanas ran upright on their hind legs!) These things didn’t phase me. I was just grateful I didn’t have the classroom located by a grassy field. The teacher in that room had to regularly corner and catch a visiting rat, while her students stayed perched on top of their desks. She would catch the rat by the tail, take it outside, swing it around her head a few times and then hurl it as far as she could back out into the field. The rat always managed to find its way back! I’m afraid if that had been my room, I would have been on top of my desk with the students!
The day did come when my bravado was tested. It only takes just one such experience to remind a person just how weak and cowardly they really are. It was ten o’clock in the morning and I was in the middle of teaching a lesson. I heard a distant rumble outside that soon grew louder. It caught our attention. Within seconds, all the louvered windows on the side of our room slammed shut and my little flock froze in their seats, their eyes fixed on their fearless teacher. I could see the panic setting in. Then the ground began to shake violently, and the students’ desks bounced around. This was immediately followed by a crack in a wall and falling plaster. Students on that side of the room were covered in dust. What followed next was purely shameful and weak on my part. I hit the panic button! I took out in a dead run and headed for the door at the back of the room. I made a beeline for the playground located just outside our classroom where I knew nothing could fall on me. I made it to the middle of the playground before I turned around and saw my entire class running after me screaming and crying. I honestly thought I was going to get tackled. They all huddled around me, clinging and not letting go. By then the earthquake was over. I looked past the playground and saw several Spanish teachers standing in the doorways of their classrooms laughing. I felt the shame fall on me in layers like the plaster dust in my classroom.
I calmed my little flock down and herded them back to our room. First order of business was to sincerely apologize for my cowardliness. I promised them I would never let that happen again; never again would I abandon them in the face of danger. We had been hit with a 5.2 earthquake which was considered moderate. Our classroom was the only one that experienced any damage at the school, but a few downtown buildings had collapsed, killing several individuals. Later, I stopped by to visit with the other teachers and asked them how they had responded to the interruption in our day. “We just bowed our heads and prayed,” they responded rather casually. Great! Why hadn’t I thought of that?
I often look back on that day when I hit the panic button, just like that flock of sheep I stopped to admire on the hillside. It didn’t take much. From what I hear, courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to confront it and move forward. I experienced other earthquakes while I was in Ecuador, but never again at the school. Each time, I think I gained just a little more calmness in my response, and hopefully a little more courage. That day at school, however, I was reminded I’m just “one of the flock.”