“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” –Flannery O’ Connor
Before preparing soup with fresh ripe tomatoes, I watch a news clip about a mother in
Malawi feeding her seven children. Into a pan, like the pan in which I am browning onions, she is
pouring termites. Termites are the only edible thing around, besides bamboo stalks, and it has
taken her hours to collect these. Her family has not eaten in days, they grow listless, and a nursing
baby pulls and tugs at her mother’s dry breast.
A woman in China gave up her newborn in a marketplace in Yangjiang, and now, three
years later, her baby sits at my kitchen table and announces over her macaroni and cheese, “Mom!
I got to be line leader today!”
In the interior of northeastern Brazil, I visit a woman in a mud lean-to in a favela. While I
am concerned with the high rate of child prostitution in this community, she tells me that is not
her concern right now. Her children all are hungry, her sons are losing their teeth from
malnutrition. Child prostitution puts rice and beans on the table. It’s as simple and as gruesome as
When I was young, I thought each of us were here to leave our stamp on this planet and
some of us simply failed to do so because of circumstance or lack of motivation. I thought history
was like butter, it wouldn’t take much to leave your mark in it. Now I sense it’s not the mark we
leave, it’s the hunger we alleviate that matters: hunger of mind, body, or spirit. Billie Holiday said,
“You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any
damn body’s sermon on how to behave.” Precisely.
My son comes home from school and calls out, “What’s for dinner, I’m starving!” The
woman in Malawi has nothing to feed her children while my pantry is full, and my hands won’t be
the hands that give her food.
But, maybe my hands can work to systemically change policies, or write a check to an
organization that feeds people, or that lift in prayer, or whatever.
When I look into my daughter’s dark eyes, not knowing her parents or ancestors, I realize
the depth of my love for her and for those unknown, unnamed people who conceived her. In a
very real sense, strangers out there in the world are family, and in a very real way we are linked.
And, as I watch another stranger’s grief as she stuffs termites into her baby’s mouth, I know I we
share this sisterhood called motherhood, and I do not want any sister of mine to taste that sort of
desperation, or for her children to taste it either.
Maybe they’ll get food soon. Maybe not, but maybe. My hope is this: that something
inside us might shift, that we humans might be moved with compassion. Maybe compassion can
move within us like a spring rain moves soil… first a trickle, then a noticeable stream, then the
earth crumbles away in the water’s torrent. That’s when justice rolls down like waters, and
righteousness like a mighty stream, when we are awash in the flood of compassion moving us from words to actually doing something.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.