Every Winter, when the first snowflakes begin to fall, I remember Simon Green.
Mr Green was already a very old man by the time I moved into my apartment, situated across the hallway from his abode of over half a century.
He was an old man, and a very proud man, always keen to remind his neighbors about his career as a British soldier.
“I’m a British soldier – still a British soldier!” he would announce as we met in the hallway, and I would quickly smile and nod and mutter any friendly comment I could muster while holding my breath, because Simon Green did not believe that soldiers needed assistance from social services, and his flat, and he, had not been cleaned in ages.
Sometimes, when we met, I politely inquired whether he might need some assistance, but despite not having any living relatives or friends, he was mighty independent and no, though he was ninety six, he was managing just fine on his own.
Until one day, he died.
The neighbor on the adjoining wall had heard low moaning from his apartment all day, and after knocking many times with no response, she called the emergency services.
There was a light snow falling. The emergency services were terribly delayed. Outside his apartment, drama was building up as anxious neighbors debated what to do.
True, he was a loner, a strange bird, a recluse. But we should have tried harder.
Finally, the police and ambulance crew arrived, and with a mighty kick, the door gave way, and braving the stench, the emergency crew carried him out, barely conscious.
While he was transported to the hospital, some neighbours, including my husband, assisted the police with searching for identifying information and contact details of relatives or friends.
Amidst the very spooky, morose atmosphere, my husband walked out of Simon Green’s apartment holding 3 bottles of milk, which he casually proceeded to place into my fridge.
“What on earth?” I sputtered, as I hastily removed the bottles, shivering more from unease than from cold.
“They’re ours.” He answered calmly, “Besides, they were in the fridge the whole time. They were the only items in the fridge. And the kitchen cupboards were empty as well.”
I gasped. With shaky hands, I fingered the bottles. They were ours. Our address was scrawled with heavy black ink across the labels.
For weeks now, there was the mystery of the missing milk. Our daily supply of milk was delivered by a milk company, but some bottles were disappearing, so we asked the company to write the flat numbers on the bottles, for easier identification.
“Put it back. Please.” I pleaded. “I can’t bear it. I don’t want it in my fridge. How can I drink coffee with milk dragged up with the last strength of a dying man?”
So the milk went to waste and I could not stop thinking of Simon Green, our neighbour who had died from hunger.
True, he was a loner, a strange bird, a recluse. But we should have tried harder. Should have.
The guilt was getting to me. When I was a kid, I used to run down the road every single week to deliver food and cakes to a lonely widow. My mother still visits old and ill people very regularly, bringing them food and comfort.
How could it be that in an apartment building filled with people who owned pantries, fridges and freezers stuffed with every delicacy that they would be glad to share; a neighbour died from hunger with his only source of nutrition being a few bottles of ‘borrowed’ milk?
The answer, I had to admit to myself, was that we didn’t care enough. We saw him sometimes; murmured a friendly greeting; got annoyed by the unbearable odour that hovered over the building each time he opened his door, and got on with our lives.
Suddenly, I woke up.
Everywhere, I realized, people were hungry. So many people were hungry. So, so hungry, they were almost dying; sinking into apathy or depression so deep that their spirits could not be revived.
The tragedy of Simon Green taught me that I dare not be too busy with my life to ignore the hunger in someone’s eyes; in their heart.
As I stride through artfully decorated school corridors or observe fabulous lessons, I see signs of hunger everywhere: Sarah, who knocks on the office door every break-time for a myriad of little ailments; Leah, who makes so much attention seeking noise in the classroom that the teacher’s patience is stretched to the end of its tethers.
Then there’s the staff: Mrs Khan who’s desperate to be assured that she’s a great teacher despite her tendency towards delivering her lessons in a rather squeaky tone of voice; Mr Green who has dedicated himself towards deepening his mathematics lessons and is hopeful that you keep noticing his efforts in planning, wall displays, lessons and marking.
People need people. We all need each other and we function so much better in a kind and supportive environment.
With all the unbearable demands and intense pressure put upon school leadership teams by the Dfe, Ofsted, governors, parents etc., it seems almost impossible to stop and notice the hunger in someone’s eyes, let alone to take the time to react with meaningful kindness.
Yet a child riddled with insecurity or severe anxiety or self – hate, cannot learn, or at least he cannot learn very well.
A teacher plagued by self-doubt, loneliness or overwhelm cannot perform to his or her potential; but can be revitalized by genuine friendliness and kindness.
Government assessment guidelines have forced schools to adopt a system where the academic progress of every child matters, which is great. But are we tracking how our students are faring beyond the curricula; how they are being equipped to achieve emotional equilibrium for their lives throughout school, and beyond?
The good news is: there’s an incredible remedy out there.
It’s a program called iheart which involves a complete curriculum designed to teach our youth how life works, and how it doesn’t; how all humans have been created and equipped to cope remarkably well through the ride of life. And how everything we ever need is already inside us.
There’s a popular saying: give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a dinner; teach him how to fish and you’ve fed him for life.
I would paraphrase: give a child a warm smile and you’ve fed him for a while; teach him how to uncover his own wellbeing, happiness and resilience and you’ve fed him for life.
Iheart is not my curriculum – it was created by talented and deeply inspiring founders who are determined to make a positive difference to the mental health of young teens, worldwide.
It is not mine to sell – I can only guide you to a link – but I urge you to hurry; because how can we plod on with our compliant education duties in one of the most culturally developed countries in the world, when so many of our children are dying of hunger?