When I was ten years old, Roald Dahl blew me away with his epic novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This year I decided to do the same for my 5th grade students. Indeed I had so much fun reading this book to them that I began to develop a new sense of gratitude for being an elementary school teacher. But one little girl, 9 year-old Ada, helped me open my eyes to a new level of profound wisdom. Here’s how:
It was second day of school. I stood in front of the class and held Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the air for all 14 children to see. “Raise your hand if you ever read this book,” I said. The class was silent. “Ok, well, I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie, right?” Four hands went up. But those four kids had only seen the new version of Willy Wanka with Johnny Depp (Which royally sucks compared to the original 1974 flick starring Gene Wilder).
“Wait. Hang on,” I said in a drawl. “You kids are telling me that absolutely positively one-hundred percently none of you ever read the book nor seen the original Willy Wanka movie?” The children stared at me with expressions, as if to say, “Duh! That’s what we told you the first time you asked.”
Great! I had them just where I wanted them. “Let the fun begin,” I thought to myself. I jumped onto an empty chair and raised the book high in the air for all to observe. (You know your dramatic play is working when the children’s eyes tacitly implore you to keep going.) “Ladies and gentle-people,” I announced. “Today we will embark on a long magical journey; a journey with secrets that can only be discovered through the exploration of this book I hold here before you.” I waited to see what would happen next. So far so good: a few hypnotized faces, several mouths open in awe, 14 beaming smiles. Sweet!
I dove into the book and read up to the part where Charlie would only receive a single chocolate bar once per year for his birthday because his family was too poor to afford more. I read aloud with a somber voice how Charlie would take just a small nibble every day, how that one chocolate bar lasted him for many months. I asked the children, “Do you think any of you could save one piece of chocolate for as long as Charlie did?” The kids shook their heads in unison. “No way!” many declared with passionate conviction. “I could never! I love chocolate too much!” But Ada was not shaking her head. She was looking straight at me, quizzically contemplating the question I’d just asked.
At that moment a cool idea popped into my head. “Ok boys and girls. I will now make you an offer that you can refuse. I offer you an opportunity to receive a delicious bar of chocolate. All you have to do is complete The Chocolate Nibble Challenge. Prove that you can savor one chocolate bar for a whole month, and you will be generously compensated with a sweet, chocolaty reward.”
Though many kids announced they were up for the challenge, only Ada put it into action. Ada was exceptionally intelligent, amicably optimistic, and excitedly curious about the world. From day 1 she displayed her natural role as the seamstress for the social evolution of our class. We became friends right away.
The day after I announced the challenge, Ada came to class with a chocolate bar and a home-made 30-day calendar that she had created on her free time. She took the first nibble in front of me. We put the rest of the bar in a Ziplock bag and I placed it in my desk drawer. Indeed, Ada didn’t miss a day. She would wait until the end of school, until all children were gone. Then she’d cheerfully skip to my desk, take a nibble and put it back. Finally the last day had arrived. Ada showed me her calendar. Each day was neatly check-marked with an X.
“You did it! Ada! You passed the test! You won!” I exclaimed. Just like Willy Wanka put Charlie through the test of sincerity, discipline, and perseverance, I wanted Ada to know that she had succeeded all the same.
The next day Ada was bursting with joy as I placed a Hershey Chocolate bar into her hand. “Thank you Allen!” she squealed. “Thank you so much! I never had a Hershey bar before. Thank you Thank you Thank you!” She capered out of the room as her voice trailed into the hallway. “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!”
As I sat in silence – inviting the precious opportunity to be in oneness with the present moment – It’d occurred to me that Ada and I concluded the Nibble Challenge in the most beautiful way: I offered her a gift to express my deep appreciation for the sincerity in her heart. And in return she offered me a gift of profound gratitude. This exchange was, and always will be, very special to me. Ada engraved a spirit of determination in my heart, inspiring me to be like her – to discover delight in the smallest nooks and crannies of everyday life; to find the joy in the here and now.
The next morning I found an envelope on my desk. Inside was a letter from Ada:
Thank you so much for the Hershey Bar. It was the most FANTASTIC chocolate bar I ever had. I am so happy! If it’s ok with you, I would like to take another Nibble Challenge for _________________ months (Allen: please write how many months). You can put this letter in my desk and I will see it when I come to school. Thank you!