Grasshopper Lover

Kindness begins with me (Children’s Songbook, page 145).

Grasshopper Lover

Several boys were kneeling in a circle on the sidewalk in front of David’s house, laughing and shouting. He watched them through the window. New in the neighborhood, he thought that this would be a good time to go out and make some friends. When the screen banged shut behind him, the boys looked up.

“Hi.” David combed his brown hair to one side with his fingers. “My name’s David. I just moved in. What are you doing?”

“We’re playing Grasshopper Gladiators,” a boy with reddish hair and freckles told him.

“I’ve never heard of that before,” David said. “How do you play?”

“You have to catch a grasshopper first,” said another boy. David had seen most of them at school, but he hadn’t been there long enough to learn their names. And right now they were more interested in their game than they were in him.

There were a lot of weeds around his new house. It had stood empty for quite a while before his parents bought it. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a grasshopper in all these weeds. He walked slowly through them till he heard a low buzzing sound to his right. Perched on a tall blade of grass was a brown grasshopper at least an inch long. David stopped and moved his cupped hands slowly toward it. When they were about three inches from it, he snatched at it. He felt it hit against the inside of his hands and then stand motionless. Experience had taught him that if he wasn’t very careful, when he opened his hands to look at his catch, it would be gone in a flash.

He waited a few more seconds. When he didn’t feel it jump again, he moved his left thumb, making a small opening. Then he tipped his hands until the warm afternoon sun entered the opening and made it easier for him to see the small creature.

He had read that grasshoppers have two hard lips and sharp biting jaws to help them tear off bits of plants for food. It’s a good thing it’s so much smaller than I am, he thought. Otherwise I might be in for a good bite.

David remembered the night his family had been reading about John the Baptist in Mark 3 in the New Testament. John had grown up eating locusts and honey. Mom had explained that locusts were a type of grasshopper. She had been told by someone who had eaten them that they tasted something like shrimp.

I like shrimp a lot, David thought, but I don’t know if I could eat a grasshopper. The grasshopper hopped toward the opening. David moved his left thumb quickly to keep it from jumping out. Its feet tickled. “I caught one,” he yelled as he approached the boys on the sidewalk.

“Good,” said the redhead. “Mark needs a challenger.” He nodded his head toward the boy who had told David to catch one.

The boys opened up to let David into the ring. What he saw made his stomach knot. In the center of the boys’ circle were grasshopper legs, wings, heads, and bodies. Two grasshoppers were still alive but had been stripped of their back two sets of legs and wings. They struggled helplessly before the laughing boys.

“What are you doing?” David choked out.

“What does it look like we’re doing?” the redhead retorted. “We’re making Roman gladiators out of them. We take turns pulling something off the other guy’s grasshopper. The guy whose grasshopper lives the longest wins.”

David watched in horror as one of the struggling grasshoppers stopped moving.

“I’m the winner!” the redhead chortled.

“That gives Jerry a score of six,” Mark said, marking a line under the initial J. S. on the sidewalk with chalk. “Is the new kid going to challenge me next?”

“No!” David shouted. “That’s mean.”

“You mean, mean boys,” Mark mimicked in a whiny voice. “Now you’ve gone and upset the new boy. How could you be so mean?”

“Oh, go away and leave us alone,” said Jerry, rising to his feet. He was a good head taller than David and was scowling at him. “What are you, anyway—a grasshopper lover? Come on, Mark, Steve will challenge you. You have a hopper left, haven’t you, Steve?”

A slightly built boy with blond hair answered. “Yeah, I have one. Hey, David, they’re only grasshoppers. It isn’t like we’re really hurting anything.”

“No.” David freed his grasshopper. “It isn’t right.”

He turned his back on the other boys and walked toward his house. He wanted to run from the jeering that followed him but forced himself to walk slowly. He didn’t want them to think that he was afraid of them.

Mom came into the living room from the kitchen. “Did you meet some of the neighbor boys?” she called cheerfully.

“I wish we’d never moved here,” he muttered.

“Why? What happened?”

“See those boys on the sidewalk?” His mother nodded. “They’re making a game out of tearing grasshoppers apart.”

“Oh, no!” His mother hesitated. “Do you want me to ask them to stop?”

David shook his head. “I already did. They just laughed at me and called me a grasshopper lover.”

“It isn’t a good way to get introduced into the neighborhood, is it?” Mom asked understandingly.

“I don’t care if they don’t like me,” David told her. “Who wants to be friends with guys like that.”

He went down the hall to his room and threw himself across his bed. The truth was, he did care. He wanted to have friends. But he couldn’t stand by and watch those boys destroy small, helpless creatures.

Mom had never let him kill even a spider. She had insisted that spiders are good and had a place in God’s world. She helped him catch them in paper cups and set them free outside. The same was true with bees and wasps.

Together they had watched a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Its wings looked damp and crumpled at first. Then, ever so slowly, they unfolded and the butterfly pumped them up with fluid and fanned them slowly. Finally it flew away.

Dad had read him the story in Moses 7 in the Pearl of Great Price about Enoch hearing the earth cry out because of the wickedness of the people. And when they worked in the flower garden together, his mother sometimes said, “I hope that this little corner of the earth is feeling joy because of our efforts.”

In a family home evening he had learned the story in Matthew 21 [Matt. 21], Luke 19, and John 12 in the New Testament of Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on the colt. The people greeted Him with branches of palm trees and called out “Hosanna.” The Pharisees told Him to make the people stop. But Jesus said that “the stones would immediately cry out” hosannas if the people were silenced.

Dad had said that in some ways the earth’s spirit was like ours. Its body needs proper care if its spirit is to be happy. And all the creatures of the earth have spirits and can experience joy. David had even been afraid to pick flowers at one time. But then he’d realized that the joy plants experience must be connected to their service to man.

He loved to read stories about Native Americans. They gave a prayer of thanksgiving to the spirit of an animal after they killed it for food. And they thanked it for its gift of life.

Who needs friends like Mark and Jerry and those other boys, David thought again. I’d rather be alone.

“Come on, David, it’s time to get up,” Mom called from his bedroom doorway Sunday morning.

Oh, great! David thought. Church! It had been bad enough the past few days at school with Mark and Jerry and their gang calling him “grasshopper lover” during recess. No one had dared to pay any attention to him, at least not in a friendly way. Jerry and Mark seemed to lead the whole sixth grade. He could find some remote corner during recess and lunch most of the time. Walking home from school was the hardest. With a bunch of other kids, they usually waited and teased him all the way home. And he’d learned that Mark, Jerry, and Steve were in his ward at church. He pulled the pillow over his head.

“David,” Mom called a few minutes later. “Come on, breakfast is ready.”

“I’m not hungry,” David called. “Eat without me.”

He knew better than to think that that would keep Mom away. Less than a minute later she was back in his doorway. “What’s the matter, David?” she asked. “Don’t you feel well?”

It would be easy to tell her I’m sick, he thought, but that wouldn’t be true. Besides, I like church. I’m not going to let a few tough guys keep me from going. Aloud, he said, “I’m coming, Mom. I’ll be all right once I get going.”

It wasn’t hard to figure out where the Valiants sat. Jerry and Mark sat together at one end of the row, glaring at him. He sat on the opposite end. Steve came in during the opening song. There were only two seats left. One was in the middle of the girls. One was by him. David watched Steve’s look of bewilderment with slight amusement. Which would he be hassled the most for—sitting by the girls or by a grasshopper lover?

Steve only hesitated for a moment before slipping in next to David. “Hi,” he whispered under his breath, then joined in the song while Mark and Jerry talked and pointed their way.

When they were dismissed to class, Jerry and Mark elbowed their way to the chairs on the back row. They tipped their chairs against the back wall and called to Steve to join them. He looked at them and then at David sitting on the front row. He surprised David by sitting by him. “I’m glad you like grasshoppers,” he whispered. “I wish I’d stood up to those guys like you did.”

David felt a glow inside. He turned and gave Steve a grin. “It’s easier to stand up to people you don’t know.”

After she introduced herself and the rest of the class members to David, Sister Newell said, “Today I want to talk about the story of Korihor from the Book of Mormon. Who can tell me something about Korihor.”

“He was an antichrist,” one of the girls behind David volunteered.

“That’s right, Mary,” Sister Newell replied. “He was an antichrist. What does that mean?”

“It means that he didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was real,” Mary answered.

“Thank you, Mary. Does anyone besides Mary remember something about Korihor?”

David loved that story. He knew it by heart. But he didn’t want to look like a know-it-all or a show-off his first day of Primary.

The rest of the class was silent, too. Then Jerry blurted out from the back row. “Hey, wasn’t he the guy that got stomped to death?”

“Yes,” Sister Newell answered. “He was trampled to death. Open your Book of Mormon to Alma 30. Skim through the chapter if you need to, and find why Korihor was struck dumb.”

David stopped worrying about looking like a know-it-all. He loved this story and wanted to share what he had learned from it with others. Maybe Jerry and Mark would listen to Alma’s words, even if they wouldn’t listen to his. He raised his hand.

“David,” Sister Newell called.

David jabbed his finger along the pages in his Book of Mormon as he answered. “Starting in verse 37, Alma asks Korihor if he believes in God. Korihor tells him, ‘No.’ Alma testifies that there is a God and a Christ and tells Korihor that evidence that God lives is all around him. Korihor tells Alma that if there is a God, He should give a sign that He has power. Verse 44 reads, ‘But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.’

“Then Alma told Korihor that because he would not accept the testimonies of other people and of all creation around him, he would be struck dumb.”

“That’s right, David. Thank you. What can we learn from this story?”

Steve raised his hand. “I think that it’s teaching us the importance of listening to the testimonies of other people. We should also treat everything around us on earth like it is a testimony of God and Christ. Even grasshoppers.”

The fidgeting on the back row stopped. There was a thud as the front legs of Jerry’s and Mark’s chairs hit the floor.

“You mean Korihor became dumb and was trampled to death because he didn’t respect bugs?” Jerry snorted.

“I’m not sure what bugs and grasshoppers have to do with the story of Korihor,” Sister Newell answered, “but I do know that he didn’t accept that these kinds of things bore testimony of the Savior and our Heavenly Father. You’ll notice in verse 59 that Korihor was trampled by the Zoramites. These were Nephites who lost the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Loss of the Holy Ghost takes away our respect for all forms of life. Otherwise they would not have trampled him.”

Then the bell rang for Sharing Time. Jerry and Mark didn’t push their way past everyone else this time. They even asked David and Steve if they could sit by them in the Primary room.

After church, Jerry, Mark, and Steve waited for David in the foyer. “Do you want to walk home with us?” Jerry asked him.

“Is it all right?” David asked his parents.

“Sure,” Dad said. “We’ll see you in a little while.”

No one said anything for the first block. Then Jerry broke the silence. “I guess Grasshopper Gladiators is a pretty mean game,” he said. “I’m not going to play it anymore.”

“Me either,” Mark agreed. “I just never thought of bugs and things as being a testimony of Jesus before.”

“I’d sure hate to end up like Korihor or those Zoramites,” Jerry added.

“Me, too,” Mark agreed. “Maybe grasshopper lover isn’t such a bad nickname, after all—but I think I’ll just call you David now.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Greg Newbold