Emeralds in Orange

Morning shadows Photo by M Dessein
When I get out of jail, often I feel excited and exhilarated. Other times, I feel like going to find some alcohol. Oddly enough, it is not to dull the feelings I have, rather to prolong them and/or to accentuate them, like I need to expand them somehow to figure them out.
Today was some of both.

A young one, I would guess to be about fourteen, in my second class, tried to be polite and attentive, yet is something of a flibbertygibbit; engaging frequently in side-talk and who’s attention is easily pulled away. However, after I told my first story, “Spider Brings Fire,” and was starting on my next one, this young one asked about a lizard story I told at least six or seven months ago. I had to think for a minute. “Oh yeah, let me finish this one and I’ll see if I can remember enough of it to tell.”

I did finish the tale I had in progress, and was starting the next story on my set list when the young one piped in, “Remember about the lizard and the emerald story?” This was clearly important .

“Okay, here goes,” I said, “‘La Lagartija Esmeralda, The Emerald Lizard.’ About four hundred years ago, in Guatemala, a young man named Juan was walking along the road. It was clear he had been crying. Brother Pedro is walking…”
“Yeah, that’s right, Brother Pedro,” the young one says.

“Brother Pedro stops Juan and asks what’s the matter. ‘It’s my wife, she’s very sick and without the right medicine, she’ll die.’”

“Wasn’t it his mother?” the young one asks.
“No, it was his wife. So Juan says, ‘I have no money. I don’t know what to do.’ Brother Pedro says ‘I wish I had money to give you, I don’t have any either.’ Just then, a small lizard runs across the road. Brother Pedro reaches down, picks it up, holds it for a moment, then reaches out and hands it to Juan. What Juan sees in his hand is that the lizard is now an emerald lizard, una lagartija esmeralda, shining brilliantly in the sunshine. He thanks Brother Pedro profusely and runs into town to a merchant, sells it for enough to buy his wife’s medicine, food for them and some cows.

“With the medicine, Juan’s wife recovers completely. Over the years, Juan’s few cows become several, which become a herd, which eventually over the next twenty years or so, Juan becomes a successful rancher. And wealthy. One day, he goes back to the merchant and asks about la lagartija esmeralda. ‘Oh yes, I still have it,’ the merchant says, ‘but it is not for sale as it has brought me much good luck.’

“’Well, it’s brought you much today,’ Juan says, ‘as I will pay you five times what you think it’s worth.’ ‘Sold!’ says the merchant.
“By now, Brother Pedro has been retired for some time. Juan sets out to find him, and within the next weeks, he does. Brother Pedro is living out in the country very humbly in a small cottage. When Juan shows up at his home, Brother Pedro recognizes him right away. ‘Welcome, Juan. Come in.’ So over cups of tea, the two men talk and catch up on their lives. Finally, Brother Pedro asks, ‘Juan, you came all this way.’ ‘Yes, Brother Pedro, I want to thank you.’

“Juan pulls la lagartija esmeralda out of his jacket pocket and sets it on the table. It sparkles brilliantly in the sunshine. Brother Pedro smiles, ‘Yes, I remember that day, Juan.’ He picks up la lagartija, holds it a moment, then sets it on the floor. The lizard then scampers out the door.”

“Yeah…,” the young one says softly.
Another young person sitting right beside the story-requester, older and a bit more on the mature side says, “I think that story is about hope.”

Someone else asks if that really happened. “I don’t know, I wasn’t there,” I said, “but miracles can happen. The French have a saying that ‘Miracles happen to those who believe in them.’ I like to think so.”

“I think they can,” another young one says. And the discussion goes on a bit. I am silent, as these young people are thinking and talking. Whatever shadows brought them here, they are thinking and talking.

In the class prior to this one, I started on a Japanese story, ‘Ooka and the Wasted Wisdom,’ preceded by a bit about King Solomon. One of the kiddoes in that class launched into a story about how King Solomon selected which of his three sons to succeed him as king. And this was only a few minutes after this same kiddo had told me that these stories were for 5th graders! Eventually, one of their conversations swirled around to justice. Justice.

Dragonfly photo by M Dessein

Then in the last class, one of the attendees made monosyllabic, barely audible responses and a small amount of eye contact. As an older, more mature kid nearing transfer age whom I had in my classes several times earlier this year, I noted the much reduced interaction (at age 18, if there is still time to be served, the youth is transferred out of the juvenile facility to the County Jail.) There were next to zero responses or comments from this class.

Each time I am there is different. Each time brings wonder. And hope. Sometimes I am unsettled or uncertain. Each time, the kids teach me things about respect, attention, awareness, listening.

I have loved ‘The Emerald Lizard’ from the first time I read it in Pleasant DeSpain’s book of the same name. That one of the kids not only remembered it but wanted to hear it again was a delightful surprise. Really, Mary? Haven’t you said a few zillion times that every question you’ll ever have is answered in a story somewhere. That stories cross time and distance to teach us and remind us we are human, and that we each belong somewhere?

Yup, we teach what we need to learn. There appears to be no magic number until we get it, yet there is magic


  • Naomi Wark

    January 7, 2019 at 2:54 am Reply

    I enjoy your posts so much. Your writing is filled with hope and love and gives your readers a glimpse of your insight into people and your life experiences. Thanks for sharing. You inspire me.

    • Mary

      January 7, 2019 at 3:00 am Reply

      Naomi, thank you so much. Happy New Year to you.

  • Beverly Allen

    January 7, 2019 at 6:05 am Reply

    How wonderful that you are doing what you do with story. Thank you for reaching out to these folks and for telling us about it.

    • Mary

      January 7, 2019 at 4:14 pm Reply

      Thanks for reading, good to hear from you Beverly. Gifts come in so many ways, right? Happy New Year

  • Judith Alexander

    January 7, 2019 at 10:48 am Reply

    I can only second Naomi and Beverly. Beautiful interactions, reminder of how important story is, and a good tip for a new story to learn. Thank you so much!

    • Mary

      January 7, 2019 at 4:15 pm Reply

      Thank you, Judith. Story is the pivot for nearly everything, yes? Indeed, Pleasant has great books. Best to you.

  • Penny Tennison

    January 7, 2019 at 1:50 pm Reply

    I’ve not thought of the “Emerald Lizard” for quite a while. It is a good story to recall as we pack up all the decorations and leftovers from the “season of excess,” and take our bearings on the year unfolding. Thank you.

    • Mary

      January 7, 2019 at 4:16 pm Reply

      Thank you, Penny. Glad ‘La Lagartija’ is back on your radar. Best to you, and thank you for reading.

  • Ruth Reyes

    January 7, 2019 at 2:11 pm Reply

    Your endless patience with our youth of today is inspiring, Mary. Connection.

    • Mary

      January 7, 2019 at 4:18 pm Reply

      Ruth! The kids teach me how to be present, not just as Mary-there-with-a-purpose, but Mary there to hear them, acknowledge them. Best to you in the New Year.

  • Jill Johnson

    January 7, 2019 at 6:43 pm Reply

    A great story! I’ve been thinking about working with some at risk kids here on the island. Perhaps we could talk about that sometime??

    • Mary

      January 8, 2019 at 1:02 am Reply

      Yay! Thank you, Jill. You are welcome to whatever info I can muster for you.

  • Aletha Helm Riter

    January 8, 2019 at 4:37 pm Reply

    I wish I had a emerald lizard…Thank you for the story….

    • Mary

      January 8, 2019 at 8:56 pm Reply

      Ah, would that be lovely? Now you have the story. Thank you, Aletha for your regular reading of my blog. Best to you in 2019~

  • Joy Ross

    January 15, 2019 at 2:39 am Reply

    What a gift you give to those kids………………and what an experience to see story in process!!! thanks for sharing you most talented and brave lady.

    • Mary

      January 15, 2019 at 5:55 am Reply

      Joy, thanks for your encouragement. The gift/wonder/strength of story, eh?

  • Katherine Gee Perrone

    February 13, 2019 at 4:40 am Reply

    I needed this story. Thank you!

    • Mary

      February 13, 2019 at 7:13 pm Reply

      Thank you, Katherine, I am delighted to know that. I needed to write it! Best to you~

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