Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Little Red Engine

Many years ago I heard someone say that stories are very important for children if they are to learn the correct values in life. Whoever it was gave the example that in fairy stories, good people are usually beautiful and bad people are ugly. The intention was not to talk about physical beauty or ugliness, but rather, to teach that goodness is something that is very attractive and badness is repulsive. Well, I think there are limitations to the theory, but in general, it seems to be saying something important because every civilisation has and has had its own mythology. The details of the stories are not important, but the message that they carry is supremely valuable.

It reminds me of the story of the Little Red Engine. Do you remember it? Of course it goes back before the days of electric and diesel trains and I can’t remember the full story, but the tale is something to the effect that the Little Red Engine was despised by the other engines in the shed because it was so little and insignificant. They used to make fun of the Little Red Engine and would sometimes make it cry. If I remember correctly, Big Blue Engine was the cruellest of the taunters.

One day the Little Red Engine was puffing its way along the railway lines when it realised it would have to climb a steep hill. The only way it could tackle the hill would be if the Little Red Engine sang its special song. It took a deep breath and started to chug in time to the words of the song, “I-think-I-can. I-think-I-can. I-think, I-think-I-can …”

Partway up, it saw Big Blue Engine completely stuck and unable to move backwards or forwards. Little Red Engine was too heavy for the step climb. It wasn’t very happy when it saw the Little Red Engine succeeding where it had failed.

Little Red Engine was a kind little engine and stopped to ask if it could help. Somehow it managed to fix itself to the front couplings of Big Blue Engine and told it to take off its brake. This was going to be difficult. Little Red Engine needed a very special song this time! “I-know-I-can. I- know -I-can. I- know, I- know -I-can …”

With a great deal of effort, the Little Red Engine started to pull Big Blue Engine. Gradually Big Blue Engine’s wheels began to move. Little Red Engine sang all the harder. “I-know-I-can. I- know -I-can. I- know, I- know -I-can …” Inches became yards. Soon the top of the hill came into view. “I-know-I-can. I- know -I-can. I- know, I- know -I-can …” The two trains reached the summit.

Big Blue Engine was very happy to be safe and sound. The couplings between the two trains were released and Little Red Engine chugged happily on its journey, singing a new song. “I-knew-I-could. I-knew-I-could. I-knew-I-knew-I-could.”

I don’t know how many years have passed since I first read that story and heard it as a song by, was it Burl Ives? But do you know something? After all this time, I still sing those songs to myself and thank God for the Little Red Engine! I’ve achieved some big things in life thanks to that little train!

God bless,
Sr. Janet