I eat all day long. I am hypoglycemic, so if I don’t eat something every three or four hours, I get shaky and mean. You don’t want to get near me around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon if I haven’t had access to a snack.
I imagine that, for most who are reading this, hunger is what happens when you’re on a self-imposed diet or if you’re on the freeway too long without a McDonald’s stop.
A lot of my new neighbors in Westwood are really hungry. Hungry, as in they have no idea where the next meal is coming from unless it's out of a dumpster. Being LA’s college town, the community probably won’t let them starve. But it gets old...and sad...sometimes, passing out dollar bills every time you have to run to the drug store. (We actually WALK to ‘run’ errands here...like living in Europe.)
Yes, I know all the reasons why we’re not supposed to do that. I know there are shelters and soup kitchens. All I can tell you is that if they have to ask, they need it more than I do. I remember a story about CSL being challenged by one of his colleagues on the topic one time. His response was something like, “Yes, I know he’ll probably just spend it on drink. But if I keep it, I might just spend it on drink!” We’re all really beggars on one level or another.
What do we actually own?
My mother was the type that would stop and help hitchhikers out in the 60’s. (No, come to think of it, she wasn’t the ‘type’ at all. But she did it.) Sometimes she would give them a ride. My father always called the State Patrol and the emergency room when she was late coming back from Atlanta. It never deterred her in the least. If someone were hungry, she made sure they were fed.
The worst trip of Katherine’s life was when we took her to New York for her 12th birthday. We thought she’d love it, as besotted with “The Theater” as she was. But all the fabulous plays in the world couldn’t make up for the grief she felt over the hungry, homeless people. She was in tears walking down the sidewalks of The City. Brooks finally got a stack of dollar bills and we let her hand them out all day long. The inequity of poverty overwhelmed her. (And no, it doesn’t matter to any of us if it’s their own damn fault they’re on the streets. Call us suckers. They are still worthy of compassion.)
Although Katherine loved going on a mission trip to Malawi with her father-in-law’s church, the relentless NEED saddened her. She told me, “We’d work all day long, as efficiently as we could, but we never got to the end of the line.” Being forced to turn some away was devastating to her. How desperately she wanted to ease their pain, satisfy their hunger, help to heal their sicknesses.
It is sadly ironic that Katherine has to suffer such gnawing hunger herself now.
Eating is one of our family’s greatest passions. My two oldest children were born ravenous. They nursed all day (and night) long. When they were James’ age, they would scream when the breakfast oatmeal ran out. Katherine averaged 3 bowls per morning. I was in a major health-food phase at the time, so the Arnold girls weren’t allowed to have white sugar, processed food, any of the bad stuff. It backfired. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.
Much later, countless friends and neighbors laughingly told me about having to make special grocery store runs when the Arnold girls were coming over. They were particularly notorious for cleaning out cookie drawers and candy bowls. No one could believe how much those cute little girls could pack down. I have to confess that I set a bad example for them. I was a low birth weight baby and a skinny (hyperactive) child who was wildly applauded for eating. I also inherited a very high metabolism. (At least until things ‘change’d.....get it, ladies?) As an adult, I have achieved a certain level of fame for how much I can eat. The girls, wanting to be just like Mommy, thought it was great fun to eat a lot. I am 5’3” and fairly lazy. My husband is 6’6” and a very self-disciplined runner. Our girls and I have always eaten more (and much worse) than he does...which was fine for them until the vertical growth stopped. They don’t thank me so much anymore.
Anyway, I think it’s interesting to note how many celebrations and ceremonies are centered around food. Every Southern family get-together is a moveable feast. My mother’s mother was a wonderful old-fashioned cook, who always had something on the stove ‘just in case’ someone happened to stop by. She had six grown children who frequently did, along with their spouses, children, friends, pets, and strays. We celebrated almost every holiday at her big, old, white house on a hill in Gainesville, Georgia...sometimes as many as 50 of us for Thanksgiving dinner. Nenie would cook at least 10 dishes for every occasion, but then everyone else would bring two or three to add to the banquet. Just writing about it conjures up intoxicating smells which are starting to make me salivate.
I’ll be back after I run to the kitchen......
Food is an instrument of love. I’ve written before (and I will write again some day) of the flow of fabulous food that showered down on us while we were at UCLA. I learned many lessons from it. Literally hundreds of people went to great trouble to keep us well-fed. Mothers of small children took hours out of their busy days to provide us with wonderful meals. They would struggle in, pushing a stroller with one hand while carrying heavy bags of food and holding a toddler’s hand with the other. This was after a long search for a parking space, followed by a long hike to the hospital and a long trek down miles of hall looking for us. It was a great sacrifice of love.
By the time Katherine got down to Acute Rehab from ICU, she was fully aware of this food offering. Her sense of smell (atypically) remained intact, and she was tormented by the aromas drifting down the halls. As she grew more aware of her situation, she, strangely, became hungrier and thirstier by the day, even though she was receiving adequate caloric intake from the nasty beigey-gray substance given through a feeding tube in her stomach. I have since read that an acute sense of hunger can be one physiological/psychological side effect of a brain injury.
At first, Katherine could not tolerate the sight of a drink or any food in her room, so we discreetly wolfed (no pun intended) down the generous meals in the privacy of the staff kitchen or lunchroom. But she would get lonely even for those brief periods. Knowing how I have to eat or get loopy, she started encouraging me to eat in the room with her. I would sit just feet away from her, but with the curtain drawn between us so she didn’t have to watch. Eventually we did away with that. As she wistfully glanced at me choking down my sandwich, I would assure her that it wasn’t very good (even if it was delicious) and that she wasn’t missing anything. But of course that is exactly what she was doing...missing one of the old loves of her life.
To this day, Katherine’s nagging hunger remains. It haunts her day and night.
She told me that if she could only do one again, she would pick eating over walking.
Still, Katherine chooses to join us for most meals now. She is a “people person” above all else. She exercises self-discipline of the most stringent type by calmly sitting there while we satiate ourselves. It’s got to be terrific torture. She is learning volumes about the practice of the spiritual disciplines. On a daily basis, she chooses to be a part of the fellowship breaking bread together, in spite of the personal sacrifice. But sometimes she is very quiet.
It hurts me as a mother. From the time we first hooked up on the delivery table, feeding my child has been the most instinctual of job descriptions. So I’ve often wondered about the purpose of this imposed fast. I believe it might be in the category of “sharing in the sufferings.” Once, I reminded her of Christ’s fast during the temptation. “Yes, but that was only 40 days,” she countered. Jay said, “Well, Katherine, I guess you’ve got Jesus beat.” Of course no sacrilege was intended...that was in the “might as well laugh” category. (We did.) Still, the mysteries remain....
I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger these days. One of Webster’s definitions for the infinitive “To hunger” is: Have a craving, appetite, or great desire for.
Dear God, we’re all hungry for something.
I tried going without food for a while the day I wrote most of this blog. What I felt was a relentless, nagging need. Want. Desire. An emptiness that desperately needed filling.
This may be a wild stretch, but just maybe, like Hosea, God is allowing Katherine the privilege of suffering as an example to the rest of us.
Maybe He’s using her to remind us all that we’re desperately needy for some food and drink that last. In a land of over-saturation, we’re suffering from spiritual malnutrition of the most insidious kind.
And maybe I’m supposed to be reminded of my own spiritual poverty when I connect with those beggars in Westwood. I am in no way above them.
We are family.
As we enter this holiday (Holy Day?) time of celebration, perhaps we should challenge each other to develop an increased awareness of the intense Hunger all around us.
As Dostoyevsky said, “If an onion is all you have, give an onion!”
GIVE AN ONION!!!
An onion of love, an onion of hope...
(CHRISTIANITY: One beggar telling another where the food line starts.)
You are my Shepherd, I'm Your little lamb
You lead me to the still water here in the pastureland
Sometimes I willfully wander
that's when I stumble and fall.
I hunger and thirst for mercy
I hunger and thirst for Your name
If I hunger and thirst for anything but You
I hunger and thirst in vain.
You are my Father,
I'm Your little child
You make a place at Your table
and ask me to stay awhile
I want to stay in Your presence
I want to feast in Your hall.
I hunger and thirst for mercy
I hunger and thirst for Your name
If I hunger and thirst for anything but You
I hunger and thirst in vain...
(Susan Ashton, "Hunger and Thirst" from Angels of Mercy)
"They will neither hunger nor thirst...He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." (Isaiah 49:10)
"You still the hunger of those you cherish..." (Psalm 17:14)
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6)
"Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." (Luke 6:21)
"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst." (Revelation 7:16)