The other day I came across this picture …
and I got to thinking. It’s a bit off this world of ours isn’t it? We have so much with our food and our water, our iPhones and our retirement funds. I always say that if the rich of the world put their minds and their wallets together things would be more balanced within the span of a day. But that’s not how it works. It’s easy to let Africa starve. It’s so far away and the scope of the problem is too large to even know where to begin.
But what about our own countries? Our cities, our towns, our neighbourhoods, the family two streets away? I’m not trying to get all maudlin and mighty here. I’m just going through what I go through every December. Sometimes I feel appalled and ashamed of the excess in which I live especially during the holidays. But I also feel incredibly grateful. Every time I turn on a tap clean water flows out and my cupboard is always full.
This morning I ate a pain au chocolat the size of my head. Often when I eat something ridiculously decadent I remember two small children, a boy about 8 and his sister, about 5. I can’t recall their names but if I close my eyes I can see their faces with perfect clarity. I remember their tatty clothes and dirty nails and greasy, matted hair. I remember how pale and thin they were. They had just been removed from their mother’s care by children’s services and were sitting in my office with a social worker.
They were quite a sight, two little souls scared, half starved to death and not too willing to talk. So we thought the fastest way to ensure their trust was a Happy Meal. There would be time enough for carrots and milk. Their story was one I’d heard many times before; poverty, neglect, beatings, a mother trying her best despite the grim circumstances. One thing that stands out in my memory, they were sent to school with one cheese slice for lunch every day. You know those plastic covered waxy pieces of orange simulated cheese, one each for an entire day.
So we presented them with their little boxed meals and pretended to focus on our lunches while observing them. No tearing open or gobbling went on, just cautious inspection. They looked at the food, then each other, then at us munching away on our gourmet sandwiches. They waited for what seemed like an eternity. Finally the boy nodded to his sister and she started to eat. Once she’d finished, the boy, still wary and suspicious, started to eat. For every french fry he ate he put another in his coat pocket. He ate half his lunch then passed the rest across the table to his sister.
Watching them almost broke my heart. I told him that there would be more food later but I knew he didn’t believe me. I think of them all the time, especially now as I walk by aisle after aisle of French foie gras, specialty cheeses and Christmas chocolates. So do me a favour this holiday season will you? If you can manage it at all buy an extra little something at the grocery store and drop it off at the food bank. And if you think one can or box doesn’t make a difference just think about a little boy with french fries in his pocket and fear and kindness in his heart. It will mean the world to him.