Thursday, November 23, 2006


Today is Thanksgiving day here in America, so, well, what do we have to be thankful for? If I am being real and honest, I have quite a lot. Quite a lot, when I look at the poor, the huddled and weary masses that inhabit the streets of this city. Those who bundle up in a long flannel shirt on a night when I have dressed myself in my heavy woollen pea coat that keeps me stylishly warm from my neck to the tops of my knees. Those who gather in a lump at the front door of the winter shelter, carrying around their chronic sickness and their drug addictions and their earthly possessions which hang loosely from their slumped shoulders, waiting humbly for a plate of warm food and a comfortable place to lay down to sleep before the day repeats itself again in the morning.

I almost spent yesterday afternoon at home, curled up on the futon with my favorite blanket and a cup of hot tea. But Bob and I knew that Food Not Bombs gathered at 4:00 every Wednesday to cook food to hand out, and since we are normally busy on Wednesday evenings, we felt this tug at our hearts to be there this week for the very first time. The tug was so forceful that, within moments, we found ourselves pulling up to the door of Common Ground Athens, where we were greeted by the aroma of stewing tomatoes in a heavy-duty stockpot, and herbed potatoes roasting in the oven.

I was nervous that Bob and I would be entirely out of place at Common Ground (an ironic fear, I know)--we don't look like hippies or yuppies; we dress very conventionally and drive a 2004 Honda and go to church. What was I afraid of, exactly? That we would be sneered and scoffed at, looked down upon, because we showed up one afternoon to help create a nutritious, vegan meal out of donated food so that the hungry could be fed? People--well some people (these people at least)--are much more open minded than that.

So for two and a half hours we chopped fruits and vegetables, much of it bruised and soft and ready to be consumed or composted, the refuse of local groceries. All the while we chatted with the regular Food Not Bombs volunteers--there were Ed and Sarah, community social workers who are truly compassionate toward those on the cusp of capitalistic society; there was Joy, an ESOL teacher out in Oconee who enjoys just being able to do what she can when she can for a cause that is dear to her; there were Kelly and Dave and Alex, the ones whose wardrobe is your mother's worst nightmare, but who are there at Common Ground on their own time fighting to right the social wrongs of the community. Among such people, how could Bob and I not belong?

We stayed until the end. Once the vast quantities of food were cooked, we helped transport it all down to the shelter at the corner of Hancock and Hull, where a group of about ten people were already gathered, awaiting their hot meal. Everyone served themselves buffet-style and ate all that they wanted, standing around in the dark and cold on the eve of Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, when Bob and I went to share an afternoon and feasting with our family, would these people have a warm meal? Or was this their Thanksgiving feast, this food that may otherwise be rotting in a dumpster or atop a compost heap at that very moment? Struck with that realization, it would take a very callous person to not be thankful--thankful for the chance to be here, shivering and tired, serving a feast of unwanted produce to the unwanted of this city, the ones whose poor and marginal existence many of us choose to be blind to, day by day. But are these not the people that Jesus came for? And if my Lord came and had compassion upon them and went among them and ministered to them, then am I not called to do the same?

Food Not Bombs volunteers get arrested, even beaten in other cities for their activism. I do not know a whole lot about the movement, and I don't know what their other activities may be aside from merely serving food to the hungry. But I felt my body tense up when a police car pulled up and parked perhaps twenty feet from our makeshift banquet table. Well, I thought, better men than me have engaged in civil disobedience, and impacted perhaps more people than if they had not stepped outside the realm of the law. And my mind turned to Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr... But when the police officer got out of the car, he walked around to the back door and helped a brittle old lady out into the cold night. He was dropping her off at the winter shelter. He saw her inside, and then with a nod he got back into the car and pulled away.

We got home at about 9:30 at night, and set about making a vegan pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. And I was thankful to be in a warm apartment with our oven all fired up and my heavy coat hung back in the closet, making a pie with my husband. In fact, I have perhaps never been more thankful in my whole life.

1 comment:

KleoPatra said...

Moving. Thanks for being a volunteer and for caring about others. It is a beautiful thing. And it always seems to cause one to look inside of oneself to appreciate even the littlest of things... Good read here.