Roy Exum: The Lunchbox Letters

Wednesday, August 12, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

You’ll remember the COVID crisis abruptly ended the 2019-20 school year in April and then followed a miserable four months where the flu effectively prohibited our children from seeing their friends, playing Little League baseball and being on the swim team. Our psychologists tell us the children have also suffered from “negative mental health issues.” Children need to begin catching up in the educational sense, but they long for in-person instruction, they thirst for the classroom friendships, and, believe it or not, they are yearning to be challenged. They adore being successful in class and, especially, when the other students notice.

Kids are funny.

Earlier in the summer I was at a late afternoon gathering and heard about a nurse, with four kids in the same elementary school, who would pack her children's lunches to save money. Since she worked the first shift – arriving on the hospital floor before 7 a.m. -- she would prepare the lunches beforehand so her kids could grab them and put them in their backpacks to catch the bus. It turns out that one of her children was being bullied because she bagged her lunch rather than pay cafeteria prices. So, the nurse started her “lunchbox letters.”

Every day she would write something encouraging or funny or inspirational … something positive … and put it in the small baggie with two cookies. Soon the other kids asked what the notes said, and her daughter would share what her mom had written. Imagine this – soon over half the class was bringing their lunch … and their letters, which of course they shared.

Then there was a single dad in California who was raising his two daughters and would draw cartoons, or write a famous quote, or share a Bible verse. When his oldest was in the fifth grade, he had enough in savings where he could buy a house five minutes walk to Laguna Beach. On the day they were moving his daughter’s dresser, the bottom drawer popped out, and … what’s this … that girl had saved every napkin from her dad since the first grade. He was visibly moved, yet his daughter just laughed. “I go back and read them all the time.”

The only story I ever heard to beat it was written by a girl whose mother was afflicted with terminal cancer when her only daughter was five years old. Her mother died when she was seven but in the years that followed, her daughter discovered almost 400 hidden love letters all over the house. In church, the pastor might be speaking from the Book of Job and, boom! a letter from Mom would be discovered. In her freshman year, she was getting out the Christmas ornaments, and underneath the smallest red globe was a letter from Mom. Can you imagine 15 years of such unmitigated love?

I know a guy whose mother would lay out his clothes for the next day – this long ago -- and there would always be a note from his mom in some pocket. It embarrassed him back then but, many years later, he would give five grand if he could just find one. Just one in his mom’s handwriting. What if you could find such a note?

Again, school starts today, and a parent has no way to gauge the gentle touch nor the thrill of a “Lunchbox Letter.” Allow me, if you need a nudge, to provide some quotes that if you’ll just copy and put in a lunchbox, or in the purse of your daughter’s change pocket, or in your son’s top pocket and you’ll marvel at what it can mean on the day of a test, in a loud classroom, or waiting for the bus in a drizzle.

* * *


1. “Challenge yourself with something you know you could never do, and what you’ll find is that you can overcome anything.” – Anonymous

2. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Henry Stanley Haskins

3. “I think human beings make life beautiful. There’s a lot of beauty in everything. I think what makes life beautiful is the ability to acknowledge that.” – Andrew McMahon

4. “Life is not about having everything. It’s about finding meaning in everything.” – Joel Randymar

5. “Beauty is hidden in everything, just learn how to observe.” – Ritu Ghatourey

6. “When you reach the heart of life you shall find beauty in all things, even in the eyes that are blind to beauty.” – Kahlil Gibran

7. “I have always known what I wanted, and that was beauty… in every form.” – Joan Crawford

8. “The love of beauty in its multiple forms is the noblest gift of the human cerebrum.” – Alexis Carrel

9. “Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.” – David Hume

10. “Those who joyfully leave everything in God’s hand will eventually see God’s hand in everything. Worries end when faith begins.” – Nishan Panwar

11. “Life is better when you stop criticizing the faults, instead, look for the beauty in the flaws.” – Unknown

12. “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

13. “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney

14. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

15. “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

16. “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” – Napoleon Hill

17. “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

18. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

19. “Our hearts are drunk with a beauty our eyes could never see.” – George W. Russell

20. “I’ve never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful.” – Unknown

21. “By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.” –Rabindranath Tagore

22. “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” – Khalil Gibran

23. “Against Him those women sin who torment their skin with potions, stain their cheeks with rouge and extend the line of their eyes with black coloring. Doubtless they are dissatisfied with God’s plastic skill. In their own persons they convict and censure the Artificer of all things.” – Tertullian

24. “That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful.” – Ninon de L’Enclos

25. “Had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked.” – Ralph Ellison

26. “Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty, they merely move it from their faces into their hearts.” – Martin Buxbaum

27. “Tell them dear, that if eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

28. “Close your eyes and see the beauty.” – Author Unknown

29. “In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty.” – Christopher Morley

30. “The most beautiful view is the one I share with you.” – Author Unknown

31. “When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.” – Chinese Proverb

32. “Beauty comes in all sizes, not just size 5.” – Roseanne

33. “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.” – Gilbert Keith Chesterton

34. “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting on a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

35. “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  – Confucius

36. “Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”  – Edgar Allan Poe

37. “A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.” – Walt Whitman

38. “Beauty… is the shadow of God on the universe.” – Gabriela Mistral

39. “Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.” – Rosalind Russell

40. “I finally realized that being grateful to my body was key to giving more love to myself.” – Oprah

41. “An obstacle is often a steppingstone.” – William Prescott

42. “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle

43. “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” – Truman Capote

44. “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under hem.” – Henry David Thoreau

45. “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or accept the responsibility for changing them.” – Denis Waitley

46. “Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

47. “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

48. “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

49. “People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Rob Siltanen

50. “I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become.” – Oprah Winfrey

(Quotes from

* * *

“It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, but what you leave behind you when you go.'” – Randy Travis

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