by Mike Nitzel, Principal
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School
Rock Island-Milan (IL) School District 41
“Character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”—H. Jackson Browne, Jr.
Last week I went to my church’s Maundy Thursday service. During the service, one of our pastors, Amanda Weinkauf, preached a sermon about love, certainly an appropriate subject for a Holy Week service and not an altogether surprising one. Of course during her sermon there were the requisite Bible passages and psalms, certainly inspiring and moving but nothing unfamiliar or particularly surprising. What really grabbed my attention was a story nestled in the middle of her sermon. The purpose of the story was to illustrate the power of God’s love and what it truly means to love another unconditionally, the way that God loves each one of us. It was a story about a little girl in Afghanistan, an American soldier serving there and a piece of fruit. However, as I ruminated on the story, I came to the conclusion that the story was as much about character as it was about love. I’m a big fan of character education and I realized that the story would be a good one to share as an example of not only love but of character. I’m going to do my best to recreate the story for you here. I can’t promise that it’s a verbatim retelling of the story, but its essence is there. Read on…
It seems that there was an American soldier serving in Afghanistan whose job it was along with the rest of his unit to provide food and water to the local people in one of the villages in their area of operation. One day, this soldier was finishing up handing out the food and, as usual, the food was gone before everyone received a parcel. This soldier and others in his unit promised to return the next day with more supplies, when suddenly his attention was drawn to a little girl who was standing alone off to the side of the road. She had received no parcel and the soldier knew that she would receive no food until the next day at the earliest. Clearly she was hungry, perhaps starving; there was no other reason for her to be there. The soldier felt badly that he couldn’t help her; he felt badly that he hadn’t given this little girl a parcel when he had handed some out to adults. He simply hadn’t seen her, standing alone, somewhat in the distance. And now the food and water were gone. At that moment he remembered that he had put a banana in his rucksack should he need a snack at some point during the day. Deciding that the little girl needed the banana more than he did, he walked up to the little girl, reached into his rucksack, and handed her the banana. The little girl took the banana, gently and carefully peeled it, and then turned and walked away. As the soldier watched, this little girl walked up to two boys, younger than she, both lying under a tree; they were apparently too weak to move. The soldier hadn’t noticed the boys before, in the same way that he hadn’t noticed the little girl. He watched as this hungry little girl took the peeled banana, broke it in half, and gave each of the little boys one half of the banana. The little girl then proceeded to eat the peel.
The soldier standing by the side of the road witnessed this. And wept.
This little girl gave freely. She gave, without expecting anything in return. She gave away the most important possession she had at that moment in her life. There’s much I don’t know about this story. I don’t know if the little girl knew the little boys. I don’t know if they were friends or enemies. What I do know is that a hungry little girl gave two hungrier little boys the only food she had and received nothing in return and expected nothing in return. What I do know is that she shared more than a banana with those two boys that day. She shared her love with them. Unconditional and unfettered of expectations of something given in return, she gave them love. And in so doing, she demonstrated a remarkable character.
“Character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”
When discussing character with your students, perhaps this is a story that you could share and have a discussion with them. I think they would relish a conversation around these questions--What would they do faced with the same situation? Would they eat the banana? Would they share the banana? What do their answers say about their character?
What would you do?
As always, your comments and feedback are most appreciated. And as always, thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to read this. I really appreciate it!