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Sunday, November 22, 2009

What We May Be

I have a story in my mind, and it goes like this: In an unsupported refugee settlement somewhere in the world, a hungry man sees a scrap of food that has fallen from someone's bag onto the ground, unbeknown to them. A group of three hungry children see the food scrap at the same time, as does a woman standing nearby. The man and children all go for the food scrap at once, and the man gets to it first and thrusts it into his mouth.

The woman, viewing the scene, calls to the children, "Come here. I have no food myself, but I will find you some food." The man notices the woman for the first time, and perceives judgment in her gaze due to his own inner guilt. He remarks to the woman, "You think you are better than me, but you will die, and I will live."

The woman reflects on the man's comment for a moment, then responds, "What will live?"

The man replies, "I will live."

The woman, "But who are you?"

The man looks on in confusion, sensing there is something important in what the woman is saying to him, but not understanding her.

The woman answers the man's confused look, "Only the worst in who you are will live on. Maybe better that it should die, but then again, maybe not. I will live or I will die, but I will do so as who I choose to be. Perhaps in this world it is usually the worst in us that lives and the best in us that dies. Perhaps this is the hell and it is death that is the release. I don't know. I only know that I choose not to take food from the mouths of hungry children."

By this time a small crowd of people had gathered and begun listening, drawn by the drama promised by the intensity of the hungry man's attention to the speaking woman, and the confident peace of her stance, though they had not seen the original act that began the interaction. Upon hearing that the debate was about whether it was right to survive at any cost, even taking food ahead of needy children, the crowd reacted.

As the woman turned to leave, a man standing nearby said, "You will not die. You will share my bread with me."

The woman responded, "I do not need any bread. I have found that I can survive on one meal every other day, and I ate yesterday. But these children are hungry and need food now. Will you share your bread with them?"

The man walked over to the children, broke the bread into three pieces, then handed on to each child. The woman was moved to tears, "Thank you. I wanted to feed them but had no food to give them. Now they are fed because of you. You are a kind man, and may you be blessed because of your generosity."

Another man standing near said, "I still want to see you fed too. I understand you ate yesterday, but tomorrow you may not find food. Here, have some of my bread today, in case tomorrow there is none to be found."

Upon hearing this the entire crowd began to murmur, "No, take some of my bread. I will feed you."

Seeing this, the man who had snatched that first scrap of found food for himself was moved to self-remembrance and began to sob loudly. "This is not who I am. I do not steal food from children. What has become of me?"

The woman's heart was moved deeply by the man's sorrow, and she went to him and took his face into her hands. "It is all right. You forgot who you are. We all forget sometimes. We forget, and then we remember again. We get to make ourselves anew each time."

The man embraced the woman and continued to sob, as he whispered into her ear, "Thank you for reminding me of who I am."

The entire crowd was moved by what they had witnessed together and someone called out, "Let's celebrate! They may destroy our village, they may empty our fields and our bellies, and we may forget who we are for a time, but we will always lead one another home."

And celebrate they did. Someone brought a single egg their chicken had produced that day, which they had been saving for dinner. Someone else brought some clean water, and another some grains. Between them they made a meal that was large enough to feed them all, and they sang, and they danced, and they laughed into the wee hours of the morning.

In the weeks and months to come, many of those people did in fact die of hunger. It is not known what became of the woman who inspired the feast, or of the children whose parents were not to be found. But the story of the Feast of Remembrance lives on to this day, to reach us and remind us. We are what we choose to be, and whatever choice we made yesterday, we get to choose again today. Let us choose to be the best of who we could be. With our actions, let us choose to contribute our vote that this Earthly existence be the heaven we have sought, one filled with angels of love and compassion, some fallen, some risen, all learning and growing, and forgiving themselves and others along the way.

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