For twelve years we attended chapel at the little rectangular school on Oak Street. We sang songs about God carrying us. We prayed for our enemies. We joined hands in unity.
There, we were taught that evolution didn’t exist. In a beautiful garden, humanity breathed life from the dust of the earth. Our DNA mirrored the image of God. We were designed, not at random, but through His inspiration.
Yet in science class, Mr. Reef knew we must learn about evolution. But he played it smart. He didn’t talk about Darwin or try to convince us we came from apes. He didn’t use the word “evolve” at all; he used the word “adapt.” We never learned adaptation didn’t exist.
He talked about the peppered moth. “Originally light in color, the peppered moth hid from predators on the bark of light-colored trees. But as the air filled with soot during the Industrial Revolution, the peppered moth had to adapt. The darker ones had a better chance for survival and thus had a better chance to procreate. This meant the light-colored moths died out, while the darker moths lived on.”
Mr. Reef showed us pictures of the moths on the projector. The stout bodies of wide-winged creatures looked like carved-up pieces of the birch trees in our school courtyard.
I think we knew he was teaching us evolution, but we didn’t protest because he proved small, incremental changes could occur in nature, and over time those small changes could add up to something bigger. We were just talking about moths after all.
I don’t know if Mr. Reef was trying to confound our faith. Or if he just wanted us to see the world from another angle. He probably figured we just needed this information to be functioning adults. There must come a point as a teacher where you learn there are indirect avenues that will lead you to the same spot.
I got an A on the test covering the peppered moth material. It was the first time since elementary school I received an A in science class. Here it was, proof that I too could evolve.
I’ve moved at least half a dozen times since high school and I still have that test. A memento from the small cracks that lead me away from that small town.
When I page through that test, I see I misspelled the word “evolve” a few times; I kept forgetting to put the “e” on the end. I suppose because he never said it, I didn’t know how to infuse it into my vocabulary. It’s interesting that I wrote it even though he never vocalized it. Somehow, on the day I took the test, in lead pencil, in penmanship somewhere between cursive and print, I wrote: “It is a great benefit for any organism to evolve.”
Rori Leigh Hoatlin is a 2014 MFA graduate of Georgia College & State University. She is the summer director of the Writing Center at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where she also teaches. She is also a 2013 Lake Michigan Writing Project Fellow and the 2015 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer for the Story Catcher Conference in Nebraska. Rori has published essays in Prick of the Spindle, Superstition Review, and Tampa Review Online, among others.