Thursday, November 21, 2013

It’s cold outside but I am on fire

Three passions have governed my life: The longings for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of humankind.
 -Bertrand Russell

These are the three passions that keep me busy, be it summer or winter, spring or fall. What are your passions? What do YOU long for, search for and feel about humanity? We all have a role to play; find it and play it to the best of your ability! 
Here I would like to explore the third passion mentioned in the Russell quote: the unbearable pity for the suffering of humankind. 
One evening after work I rushed to our sister food pantry in Westfield. The people there are great, and I enjoy getting lost in the act of packaging foods and sorting things out on the shelves as well as the short and sweet pleasantries exchanged with the clients. There I noticed an interaction between a young man and a fellow volunteer. 
As the young man was offered frozen foods, meats, noodles, etc., he kept rejecting them, saying he could not accept any foods that must be refrigerated or cooked on the stove or in the microwave. He only accepted cans. To our questioning eyes that screamed, “How come?” he answered that he had no such things; he just ate out of the can, not even warming up what he ate. I was surprised at his simple proclamations as he neither wanted to inspire pity nor show helplessness. He was very matter of fact, of good cheer and appeared to ride with the circumstance of the moment. 
After the young man’s departure, I was left with a feeling of sheer dismay. Refusing food because he could not cook it, keep it… People like this must need the food the most, and yet…  What a conundrum. 
I hope he is able to keep himself warm, wherever he is, as the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. It’s cold outside, but I hope that my heart will always stay warm, flexible and open to appreciate the intricacies of the human condition.  He will forget me, but I will never forget him. 
I don’t pay attention to those who say such people brought such circumstances upon themselves. Whatever happened to him could have happened to me, to you. By the grace of God, I come home to warmth and food and shelter; my basic necessities of life are met. The thought that if something went wrong and I could have had this experience makes the plight of these individuals so personal to me. 
I don’t want to be the one standing and doing nothing, in essence, agreeing with this feeling of helplessness in this cause. Did you know that if we wanted to, we could easily feed all of the people on this planet? It would not be hard. Our egos are hard, and therein lies the difficulty of this problem. We avoid any type of involvement that would take us out of our comfort zone and into the zone where we will come face to face with our neighbor’s pain and humiliation, frustration and helplessness, where we will have to learn about ourselves, our selfishness, our light and dark sides and understand that we are not invincible. 
Perhaps we should stop looking at poverty and hunger as a problem but an opportunity for change.
All I know is that failure is guaranteed when we do nothing. 

May I leave you with the words of Frank Zappa?   
  “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

Perhaps we should stop doing the normal thing, which is avoidance and denial and start seeing this for what it is. Your brother and sister are hungry. Feed them. Perhaps tomorrow you will be hungry. Who will feed you? 

---Olga Pyshnyak

Board Member, Our Community Food Pantry in Southwick, MA