Today, at lunch duty, I stood between two long lunch tables. On both sides sat several dozen five year olds. My task, opening milk cartons.  Child hands carton up, I take carton, do the slow peel back of the spout. Then, I return carton to the closest hand. Next?

As I opened the sixteenth or seventeenth carton, I became aware of a little pat pat pat on my belly. Milk cartons kept coming, so I ignored it and pressed on, but the pat pat persisted. OK, so what’s up? I looked down to see Juan’s small hand patting my belly in a small circle.

Juan, what are you doing? His saucer-big eyes connected with mine:

Principal, how come your belly so big?

My response: Eat your lunch Juan.

He took my advice and went back to the rice and chicken dish – the featured item on the day’s school lunch menu. But the exchange gave me pause. I took an instant to notice this little guy. I saw him every day, but now I saw him as if for the first full time. He had spiky hair and wore a blue and grey striped T-shirt. He had all of his teeth and a huge grin. Next to him on the lunch bench, two scuffed brown boots. He also made the most of the lunch table with parts of his lunch spread out a foot and a half to each side of him.

To myself I remarked – what a happy boy.

Then I saw an imprint where he had patted. And, for sure, from my vantage point, I indeed saw a paunch. Juan, meanwhile had already moved on, head down in his plastic plate or turned away to chat up his pint-sized friends. I became another ‘whatever’ in the five year old’s mind.

He spoke in short burst of immediacy and electricity. Zap to the left, then a quick laugh, and then three more bites jammed into his still-talking mouth. I stayed stuck a few frames back on the part about my belly. I got something of a quick rush where my life flashed and I remembered, once again, that I am temporary.

Oh, that’s right. . .

Coming alive involves learning to see. Seeing my body change and avoiding the temptation to look the other way – that’s the opening Juan gave me. His summative statement came as a blunt truth, like calling out the color red  or the state of the four-square ball – flat!  No judgment.. Just a declarative comment. No point for me in getting hooked to wishes or memories. Describe, capture, celebrate, and move on.

When I get nudged – or patted –  my awareness kicks up a notch. I hear better and see more. I make way for little voices to cut through the din. I pause and let a given moment sink in. From  there I can gain access to something just a bit bigger than I might have predicted. I might be wise to pat my own paunch and say thank you.

To you, Juan, I bow.


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