"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle."
- Plato- Plato
While walking around the cafeteria during my Wednesday lunch duty, I saw a fifth grade boy with pale skin, shaggy, neat brown hair and an earnest face sitting alone without lunch. Most students were either on line buying or eating food from home.
I asked, “Are you buying lunch today?”
His eyes filled with tears, as he shook his head no.
“You know, they have free lunches for kids who forget to pack. Would you like to get one?”
I could see he was fighting not to cry. Waiting for him to compose himself, I kneeled next to his seat.
Eventually he said, “I can’t. I have allergies.”
He pulled out a folded, wrinkled, laminated paper. I scanned the extensive typed list of banned foods. No peanuts (free PBJ out). He couldn’t even have the hummus alternative.
“I can see that.” Can you have fruit?” He nodded. “Follow me. We’ll get you fruit.”
We cut the line. I handed him an orange. Then I tried to give him an apple. “I’m allergic to apples,” he said.
I put the apple into the basket.
We returned to his table where he began peeling the orange.
“I’ll be right back.”
I found the assistant principal a few rows over. I explained the boy’s situation. She said she’d take him to the nurse to figure out an alternative. Then she spoke with him for a few minutes and they both left the cafeteria.
A while later, the boy returned with a plastic container of romaine lettuce. No croutons, no carrots, no salad dressing. Safe for him. He ate that and the orange, and then joined his friends for recess.
I learned an important lesson.
Pay attention to EVERYONE. Don’t just notice the ones who make noise. You never know when someone might need you.
I knew this already. It’s what drives me as a teacher. I want to connect with everyone—the pains in the butt, the ones who always do the right thing, and the ones you really need to pay attention to or you’ll forget they’re there.
But in a cafeteria with hundreds of students, this is harder.
Later, in the hallway, when I passed his class in a line, the boy went out of his way to say hi to me.
I hope he learned a lesson too.
Don’t stay silent. There are people who care all around you. Reach out and someone will help you.
...And don’t forget your lunch.