Lunch Buddy to Life Buddy


Water slide

This is the last week of school for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

This is the last week for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

He’s graduating from 5th grade this Friday. The Lunch Buddy program stops at 5th grade.

I always liked the last week and day of school.  Not so much this year. 

He and I were matched his first year at Robberson. He was in Kindergarten. We’ve been “buddies” for 6 years.  

We’ve gone from me pushing him on a swing and him trying to push me and having to call his friends for help, to just walking around the school yard or sitting on a bench talking.  His choice.

I was at his school yesterday. We had been sitting on a bench for about 20 minutes engaged in a good conversation. Other kids were on the grounds playing. His 5th grade class was eating pizza and ice-cream – a special treat for the graduates! Thinking he might be bored and wishing I’d leave so he could go play, I did my best to give him an out: “You know,” I said, “we’ve been talking a while and it’s been good, but if you want to go play with the other kids or go grab some pizza, that’s cool.”  

“No,” he answered, “I’d rather just sit here and talk with you.”

We’ve grown.  We’ve talked over the years about:

-what hurts us and what scares us.  

-what makes us laugh and what makes us sad.

Each time, no exception, over the 6 years, I’ve left Robberson a better person for having spent time with my buddy.

I’ve learned from him generosity – every single time he offered to me some of his lunch.  When I would bring  him a bag of candy he would share with his friends. Everytime.

I’ve learned from him kindness.  His life may not be easy. But his spirit is strong and sweet.

I’ve gotten in trouble some at the school.  Kind of a lot. I brought a football one time to toss around with the kids, only to be told that there are no footballs allowed.  Football might lead to tackling.

I led the kids in the old-fashioned game of “Red Rover,” and was confronted by the playground supervisor telling me that that too was not allowed.  The game I grew up playing was too rough.

I developed a reputation of not always playing by the rules.  Imagine that.

I started taking “Reeses Cups” to her as penance.  It worked.

Yesterday was “Water-Slide Day” for the 5th graders.  After lunch, the kids lined up to take their turn. I stood with two teachers watching the fun.  Each time a kid would climb the steps to slide down the other side, the other kids would chant their name.  

The kid would slide down amidst the chants into a pool of water sending  sprays over the shrieking, happy kids waiting their turn.

I watched my buddy slide down, gave him a hug and left.  I signed out at the office, walked outside toward my car but took a right turn at the edge of the school building instead.  

I wanted to slide.  Was this another breaking of the rules?  I checked with the two adults still standing there – “Is it OK if I slide?” I asked them.  

“Sure!”  No rules against silly adults sliding down the water-slide.  So, with the kids chanting “Phillip, Phillip…” I climbed the steps and in my best cannon-ball tuck, went down the slide.

“Come on, Phillip.  You’re 62 years old.”  I know. to me, that’s even more reason to go down the slide.  As Pablo Neruda said, “A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.”

Being a Lunch Buddy for 6 years has given me the opportunity to play again, to cultivate a “beginner’s mind,” a mind that sees things, hears things, experiences things as if for the first time, like a child.  A beginner’s mind leaves me open to learn new things or to think about old things in a new way.

When I left Robberson School, my lunch buddy asked, “Can you go with me to my new school?”

I wish that were possible.  Maybe it is. One thing is sure, he is more than a lunch buddy.  He is a life buddy.


A Taste of Grace

A  highlight of my week is a 30 minute lunch with my “lunch buddy” at a local elementary school.  The “Lunch Buddy” program, administered by Big Brothers/Big Sisters, pairs an adult with a kid who needs a good adult role model.

 “Big Brothers” thought I would fit the bill -as the adult.

I was paired with a 6-year-old kindergartner.

Sitting in the school library for our first lunch together several weeks ago, we unpacked our lunches.   I opened my Zip-Lock bag of apple slices.  He opened his Spider Man lunch box filled with three bags of chips, 2 cereal bars, and a Capri-Sun fruit juice.

Maybe he felt sorry for me. “How sad,” he may have thought, “all this man has to eat is an apple.” Because each time he opened a bag of food, before taking some food for himself, he would hold it out to me,  “Mr. Bill (that’s what he calls me – I’m good with that –  “Phil”- “Bill” sound the same), do you want one?”

“Thank-you, but (How do I explain Celiac to a 6 year old?),  I have some food allergies. I’ll just eat my apple.”  Not being able to comprehend eating only an apple for lunch, he persisted.  He unwrapped his cereal bar, tore off a piece, held it up to me, “Can you eat this?”

“No, thanks though, I really can’t.”

He was relentless.

“How about chocolate?  Can you eat chocolate?”

“Yes,  I love chocolate.”

So, like a miner digging for diamonds the little fella dug into his cereal bar with those little 6-year-old fingers until he pulled out a bit of chocolate.  “Here you go,” he said with a beaming smile, “here’s some chocolate for you!”

Forget cross-contamination – a Celiac’s fear.
Forget where those fingers may have been.
How could I say “No” to such a face, to such grace?

Some of the best chocolate I’ve had.

I wonder if Jesus had this boy in mind when he said,

“Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children you will in no way enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3)?

I signed up to be a “lunch buddy” to inspire a kid.  The kid inspired me.