In the third grade, I went to a country school with no cafeteria. Like everybody else, I ate the appropriate lunch at my desk—a ham & cheese sandwich, a bag of chips, and a piece of fruit in a paper sack. No student would consider anything else lest they be ridiculed for being weird.
One day, Mom decided chips and a sandwich wasn’t healthful enough. No, I had to carry a big black metal lunch box shaped like a barn so I could have hot soup from a thermos. Oh, my. How could I avoid being seen by the other kids?
As I walked into the classroom, I concealed the lunchbox behind me and quietly slipped it under my seat. Thankfully, nobody noticed. But when the lunch bell rang, I couldn’t hide. What could I do?
When I opened the lunchbox, I forced a big smile and let the lid bang against the desktop. Now everybody knew how weird I was. No more hiding. To my surprise, the bowl of steaming soup from the big thermos tasted really good.
The next day, I dared to look up, anticipating pointed fingers and smirks. Surprise. The boy across the aisle had a lunchbox like mine. So did Susie and Billy and the tall kid in the back.
That’s when I learned a life-changing lesson: it was okay to be different.

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