“Penguins Don’t Fly,” Friend, Oct. 2003, 5
One day at school, Matthew sat doodling on the cast on his leg while his classmate Andrea was giving her report about penguins. His cast was blue and was pretty much covered with messages from friends. He had broken his leg at a soccer game—the very first game of the season! Now he was going to miss the entire season, and he had to use crutches to get around. At least he didn’t have to be pushed in a wheelchair anymore, as he had the first few weeks. Matthew was thinking about how long it would be before he could walk normally again when he heard Andrea say, “And here’s my very own penguin!”
That caught his attention. Andrea was holding a model penguin, and it looked pretty good. She must have spent a long time making it.
“What did you make it out of?” Rebecca asked.
“I used papier-mâché, chicken wire, and tissue paper.”
“What did you use for its eyes?” John wanted to know.
Andrea was still answering questions when the lunch bell rang.
Mrs. Smith, Matthew’s fourth-grade teacher, smiled at Andrea. “Thank you for an excellent report. You were very thorough, and your project shows a lot of hard work.”
Then she turned to Matthew. “Who would you like to have stay with you today, Matthew?” Since the classroom was outside in a trailer, and it was hard to go up and down the stairs on crutches, Mrs. Smith let Matthew stay in the classroom to eat his lunch each day. He also got to choose a friend to stay and eat with him.
All of his friends raised their hands. “Me! Me! Let me!”
Matthew looked around. “Evan, I guess,” he said.
Evan cheered and pulled out his sack lunch while the rest of the class filed out to the lunchroom.
“What is your report about?” Matthew asked as he munched his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“Lions,” Evan replied. “What about yours?”
“Cheetahs. They’re my favorite animal.”
“What are you doing for your project?” Evan asked. “I drew a picture of some lions.”
Matthew nodded. “You’re really good at drawing. I’m going to put a plastic cheetah next to a car to show that a cheetah can run faster than a car for a little while. But my project isn’t very good compared to Andrea’s. Did you see her penguin?”
“Not very well,” Evan said. “My seat was too far away.”
“You should take a look. She must have spent hours on it.”
Evan shrugged. “She gets so crazy about things. You’d think penguins were the only animals on the planet.” He walked over to the side cabinets where Andrea’s penguin was on display. “She did do a good job,” he said. Suddenly he picked up the model penguin. “Hey, didn’t she say penguins can’t fly? Let’s see if she’s right!” He tossed the penguin across the room toward Matthew.
“Hey, watch it!” Matthew lunged for the flying bird and grabbed it by the feet. A few pieces of orange tissue paper fell off. “Flying back at you,” he yelled, flinging the bird toward Evan. It landed with a thud on the top of the overhead projector.
“She was right,” Evan said, laughing. “They don’t fly very well at all.”
When Evan picked the penguin up, several pieces of black and white tissue paper fell to the floor. “I think he’s shedding,” he said. “Oh, no! He has a bald spot on his wing! And it’s dented!”
Matthew hobbled over and studied the tattered project with dismay. “What are we going to do?” he asked. “Andrea’s going to be really mad.”
“Why don’t you pick up all the pieces of tissue paper and throw them away? I’ll just put the penguin back with the bad wing toward the wall. Maybe no one will notice.”
“I don’t know …” Matthew said. But he leaned over, balancing on one foot, picked the pieces up, then stuffed them in his pocket. He felt awful. “Do you think we ought to tell her?”
“No way!” Evan said. “We’ll get in big trouble.”
The bell rang, and soon the rest of the class returned. All during math and science, Matthew avoided looking at Andrea or the teacher. And he especially avoided looking at the penguin. What should he do? How would he feel if he had worked that hard on a project and someone ruined it?
But what would happen if he told? Matthew didn’t like calling attention to himself. And any punishment he received was sure to be something people would notice. Maybe he would have to sit in the principal’s office during lunch. Maybe he would have to pay Andrea for the penguin. Maybe they would call his mother from the office. None of those things sounded good.
But he knew that Andrea had to pick up the penguin sometime, and she would definitely notice the big bald spot and dent on the wing. She would know that someone in the class had ruined her bird—someone without enough courage or respect to tell her about it.
Matthew knew that the twisted knot in his stomach wouldn’t go away until he had done the right thing. He got up and went to the teacher. Pulling the crumpled tissue paper out of his pocket, he told Mrs. Smith what he had done.
Matthew could see from her face that she was really disappointed. “Thank you for letting me know,” she said. “Andrea, can you come here, please?”
Telling Andrea what he had done was very difficult, but Matthew felt a great sense of relief afterward. “I’m really sorry,” he added.
“How bad is it?” Andrea asked, going to look at the penguin. “Oh,” she said. She didn’t look very happy. But she took the tissue paper from Mrs. Smith. “I guess I could probably fix it,” she said.
“May I help you?” Matthew asked.
“Sure,” Andrea said. “Thanks.”
Matthew wished he had never thrown the penguin with Evan. But he was glad he had decided to confess, apologize, and do what he could to make it right.
“Repentance … has an end, a glorious end with peace and … forgiveness and the miracle of a new beginning.”
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “To Be Free of Heavy Burdens,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 87.