When I was in pre-school, we listened to the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” frequently. Recorded by the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, the song tells the story of a boy and his imaginary dragon. Like many children’s songs and books, it’s pretty clear that this one was written by an adult who’s experiencing some nostalgia or perhaps regret. The last verses are…
A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
It’s those last two lines that I’ve been thinking about. Jackie helps Puff to be what he is. It’s not that Jackie makes Puff brave, but he reveals him for the mighty dragon that he is.
Even as a kid, I remember thinking that this song was awful sad. But when I got the song stuck in my head the other day I wondered if another Jackie or Julie or Simon comes along for Puff. Someone else who helps him feel like the brave dragon he is.
You’ve likely surmised that I’m thinking about more than just a song from pre-school. My experience in teaching has been that I’ve needed people to help me realize who I am and the kind of teacher I am. It’s not that those people tell me who I am, but that they often have the insight to see things that I miss or am reluctant to name. So when those people have moved on or when I’ve moved on, there’s always a moment of panic in which I’m afraid that I won’t be able to be brave without them.
But just when I’m contemplating crawling back into the cave, someone shows up with strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff…