Text of "Defining the Grateful Gesture"
According to our mother,
when she was a child
What was placed before her
For dinner was not a feast,
But she would eat it
To gain back the strength
Taken from her by long hot days
Of working in her mother’s house
And helping her father make
Candy in the family kitchen
No idle passenger
Traveling through life was she.
And that’s why she resolved
To tell stories about
The appreciation for satisfied hunger.
When we would sit down
For our evening meal
Of arroz con pollo
Or frijoles negros con platanos
She would expect us
To be reverent to the sources
Of our undeserved nourishment,
And to strike a thankful pose
Before each life of the fork
Or swirl of the spoon.
For the dishes she prepared we were ungrateful,
She would say, and repeat
Her archetypal tale about the Perez
Brothers from her girlhood town of Ponce,
Who looked like ripe mangoes,
Their cheeks rosed despite poverty.
My mother would then tell us about the day
She saw Mrs. Perez searching
The neighborhood garbage,
Picking out with a missionary’s care
The edible potato peels, the plantain skins
The shafts of old celery to take
Home to her muchachos
Who required more food than she could afford.
Although my brothers and I never quite mastered the ritual
Of obedience our mother craved,
And as supplicants failed
To feed her with our worthiness,
We’d sit like solemn loaves of bread,
Sighing over the white plates
With a sense of realization, or relief,
Guilt about possessing appetite.
Many of us have never really been truly hungry. On the first Sunday of each month, some religions participate in a fast and donate the funds that would have been spent on food to the needy.They get an absolutely mediocre glimpse at what going without food is really like. We are just so sheltered in my little Western civilization home. Most of us know people who have traveled or served mission trips abroad. We've heard tales of people bathing and using the bathroom in the river, and 20 feet downstream, families drinking out of the same water. We’ve heard tales of dinners or dead rats and insects. I just don’t know if I could handle that.
In many religions, it is custom to pray before meals to give thanks and to ask for a blessing upon the food. Well, often if someone arrives after the meal starts, peoplee just say that the food has already been blessed and it’s alright. John Bytheway puts a different spin on it. He speaks of his experiences in the Philippines and it can change your entire perspective. He said that he didn’t care if the food had already been blessed, he personally wanted to pray and give thanks that there was clean food. He was grateful that he could eat a decent meal. There are so many people that live on such meager rations. The fact that we can just pull a vanilla pudding out of the fridge is a million miracles within itself.
We can understand the “guilt about possessing appetite” (l. 47). It’s really not like We’ve done anything to deserve this life. We were just lucky enough to be born into a comfortable situation. Everyone gets hungry. Hunger is a physical signal that your body sends so that you nourish yourself and maintain blood glucose levels. We just feel bad sometimes when we feel hungry, knowing that others are hungry, and that they didn’t eat breakfast and that their dinner was nominal.
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