Samuel A. Kojoglanian, MD, FACC, FSCAI

It was the first time I had gone through a cafeteria line in my life. I was 9 years old and found myself in a new country called America. I handed the nice lady sitting at the counter a blue piece of paper and thanked her; she smiled and let me through.

It was strange to see peanut better on celery sticks and macaroni with cheese, but to my delight, they were delicious. I got home and told my parents about my first day in school. When it came to the cafeteria scene, they were very displeased and I did not understand.

The next day, my parents took me to the principle’s office. They took all the rectangle blue pieces of paper with the imprinted words “free lunch” and returned them. They thanked him for being so gracious to me, and in their broken English, expressed their gratitude that the school embraced my arrival to America. They also told him that they worked, will continue to work, and as long as God gave them the strength and privilege to work, they’d like to pay for the meals their son ate. My parents wanted others who were facing hardship and unable to work to benefit from the blue pieces of paper.

You would think kids don’t pick up on the smallest things. But this was in the principle’s office, and even though I was 9, teased by many as a “foreigner,” pushed down the stairs by students because I was different, I still understood what my parents were trying to instill in me.

Instead of taking, give.

Instead of begging, achieve.

Instead of doubting, believe.

Instead of wasting, retrieve.

Instead of being passive, perceive.

And instead of dying, live.

That day in the cafeteria…that day with my parents…that day with the principle had a profound impact in my life…

Give with all your heart, serve with all your soul, love with all your might, have a thankful spirit, no room for judgments, just a huge space for hard work and a servant’s heart.