On Wednesday, my cafeteria ran out of food. Twelve kids got shorted but continued to stand in line as if waiting would change facts. We had run out now three days in a row and the meal of the day was barbequed chicken wings on brown rice (a favorite). Our lunch lady closed the door with her usual not-my-problem pursed lips. And there we stood. No food, kitchen closed. Eye to eye. Not good. Time to cut a quick deal!
I pulled out my cell phone and ordered pizzas. Three extra larges, one veggie, one cheese, and one pepperoni. We met in the library, but when the pizza arrived, out came three mediums – all cheese. Oh no! Our next few minutes played out like a reenactment of a word problem on a nightmare math quiz. I had enough to give each child one slice, and had four left over. How would we decide together who would get the remaining slices?
Raul, a thin handsome boy with gelled hair, told Angelica, a girl with thick glasses, that she could have half of his slice and he would take the other. He made a little slicing gesture with the side of his hand and offered to cut it for her with a plastic knife. “Heck no, Raul.” She chopped the side of her hand down on the wood table and shot back “What do you know about half. Your half won’t even come up to my tenth. Do the math. You always get more.”
Whoops. Bad start. I felt the room starting to cave in. We needed a different plan.
When rooms get tight like this, true measurement slips away. A half is whatever I say it is and whatever you offer will for sure come up short. However, even in tight rooms, moments of grace can intervene where an individual chooses to act on behalf of others. On the edge of impasse, Trevon brought one such act to our tense little group.
Quiet and soft spoken, the boy looked at the four remaining slices. “I want to give my piece to Johnny. He’s always been my friend.” A baffled pause followed. Then, Angelica offered up her pizza to Isabel – another soft spoken child. And the race was on to give away what remained. Two of the four pieces traded hands three times. The kids returned to class. The solution to this word problem would not have been found in the back of the book.
I told my brother, Kevin, my pizza story this evening. He works tough rooms all the time and reminded me that some folks equate strength with hanging on and others find strength through letting go. “The clinging types tell you they’ve gone more than half way, but you know in your gut you got shorted. These types remind you to set some aside for yourself because if you let it all go, you end up drained and empty.” “Humility” he told me “comes in knowing that, wherever you find your limit, it is one of your own making. Sometimes a half can come up short. But if your heart’s in the right place, a half is sometimes more than enough.”
By this way of thinking, giving brings more than the tight grip. I’ll bet on that half, any day.