What I learn from hunger

I’m cutting up strawberries to break the fast of Good Friday and, because I’m thinking about everything except this exact moment in time, I find myself lifting a strawberry up to my mouth. Luckily, just before I pop it in, I remember: I’m fasting. And the sun is still high in the sky and, for me, the fast isn’t a fast unless I make it to sundown. I’m competitive that way. (Definitely not on God’s Top 10 Traits of Holiness.)

I put the strawberry down and continue making the fruit salad Husband and I will enjoy as the end to Good Friday, and think of all the people in the world who don’t have the luxury of strawberries, much less fresh water or decent vegetables. Then I think of those living in war zones and refugee camps and domestic violence shelters and I remember that for me, this is what fasting is about. I have to be seriously reminded through the ache in my belly at least twice a year how lucky I am by the accident of my birth.

We have a common mantra in this country: If you work hard and act right, you, too, will wind up in a nice house with cars that work and children who are healthy and food on the table whenever you want it. But that is simply not true. Yes, working hard and making good choices matter. But it is just a drop in the bucket compared to the accident of your birth. Where and to whom you are born makes working hard to climb up possible, and provides a safety net to cushion against – or prevent – poor choices.

If you’re in Syria right now, it doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked all your life and all the great choices you’ve made personally. Ditto for the South Side of Chicago, where children have to walk to school past drug dealers who coerce them into the drug trade in exchange for a safe walk to school.

I’ve worked really hard in my life, but so much of what has come to me has come because I was born a (1)White child in a (2)two-parent home in the (3)United States. Those three things matter so much to one’s “success.” Yes, children born into those circumstances can still make horrible choices that screw up their future, or be struck by addiction or mental illness with the same result, but, overall, the accident of their birth gives them a leg up in this world that lasts a lifetime. Even if they do make poor choices or succumb to addiction or illness.

We need to acknowledge this if we ever want to do anything about addressing the inequity of life. As has been said, you can’t really pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you were born into a house with no boots.

And this is what fasting does for me: It heightens my awareness of my privilege, and pushes me to action. Buying school supplies for teachers in the poorest schools in town, running a book drive so kids in those schools have books at home, or stopping on the street when I see a child waiting for a bus with no shoes on, talking carefully with her to find out her school then following up with the school counselor to offer help.

The awareness brought on by fasting also brings me to my knees begging forgiveness for complaining that a particular coffee shop doesn’t make my latte correctly, or for whining that a store is out of my favorite ice cream, or saying, ever, the words “If only they’d try harder.” Because, really, it is so much more than trying that matters in this world.




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