My Experience with Living in Hunger: A Reflection
During the holiday season, when family and friends gather to eat firsts and heaping seconds, members of the Upstate South Carolina Bread Team recently opted for thirds — one-third a cup of rice, that is. About 1 billion hungry people worldwide typically get just one-third a cup of rice for nourishment each day.
For most of us, such meager portions are hard to comprehend. That’s why team leader Rev. Jerry Hill of Buncombe Street United Methodist Church in Greenville, SC, issued a “rice challenge” to everyone who attended the recent team training. Live on one-third a cup of rice for one day. Experience a small taste of what it’s like to go hungry. Remember why Jesus asks us to advocate for the “least of these.” Then, share your reflections with others. For Rev. Andria Cantrell of Dunean United Methodist Church, the experience hit very close to home. Read her hour-by-hour reflection below:
7:30 a.m.: I awake and think of postponing this day again. I think about why I am doing this. I don’t know why this is so intimidating for me. I do fast and pray for people and concerns, so it is not something new to me. It is somehow different though. I think it is the rice hovering somewhere in the future of this day, and the knowledge that this whole thing is about identifying with the hungry of the world. The numbers of hungry people overwhelm my mind. Unlike a typical fast for me, with one person or one tough life issue as the focus, this is so much larger. So large that my prayer seems so small. This act seems so small and insufficient.
December 21, 1983: There was a time in my life when I was very poor and received food stamps. I was 18 years old, with a 7-month-old daughter. My husband had received a promotion which promised to lift us out of poverty. We had moved to West Virginia. It was December, four days before Christmas. He had not yet received his first paycheck. I had canned milk in the cabinet for the baby and two cans of pork and beans. I fed my child a little bit of the beans, along with the milk, but she was really too young to eat those and they gave her a stomach ache, and so she was up all through the night crying. The next day, I gave my husband a can of the beans for his dinner. I did not eat. There was no food in our home for three days. I was young and had no idea where to get help or what to do. Our families would be coming on Christmas Eve, so I just waited. I was afraid that something would happen and that my family would not come. I really do not remember the hunger -- just the fear.
8:03 a.m.: I go to my pantry and open it. It is filled with food. I go to my freezer out in the garage and it is filled with food. I check my refrigerator and it is also full. I remember feeling frustrated last week when I tried to fit the Thanksgiving turkey in the fridge for defrosting.
10:41 a.m.: I am really hungry now. I have a slight headache. I think back to the 18-year-old girl that I was and feel that this day is homage to her somehow.
December 23, 1983: There was a blizzard. I remember staring out of the window of our apartment and trying to will the snow to stop falling as I watched it pile up past the car tires in the parking lot. My husband is at work at the local mall and I worry how he will get home. I can’t call him to reassure myself, because we don’t have a phone. I can’t call my family, so I don’t know if they will be able to make the trip or not. Maybe I should put more water in my daughter’s milk so that it will last longer? It begins to grow dark outside and I start crying. I’m unable to leave the window. I strain to look for headlights or any sign of movement. I think, surely they must have closed the mall early, but then I realize the date and know that is probably not the case. It is midnight when I see my husband walking through the deep snow across the parking lot. He comes in and pulls a sleeve of saltines out of his jacket. I had some tea bags and had made some tea, with no sugar in it.
He was upset that our families were coming and we had nothing to prepare for them. I was simply afraid that they would not come. I felt very guilty as I lay down that night, trying to think of ways to plan better next time. I don’t remember being hungry. I just remember feeling ashamed and guilty.
12:05 p.m.: I rise from my computer and go to make some tea without sugar. I know that we are not supposed to have anything but water, but I feel a need to drink this in remembrance of that girl I was. She didn’t have any faith, and she didn’t pray. I wonder if faith or prayer would have comforted her, or if she would have lost her faith.
I decide to go ahead and make my rice. I feel weak and light headed. When the rice is ready, I take a few bites, but I can’t eat it well. I wrap it up and put it into the refrigerator.
December 24, 1983: I awaken in the middle of the night to the sound of my daughter crying. My husband doesn’t wake up. I go and get her from her crib and take her downstairs. I get a clean bottle out and fill it up half way. There are two more cans of milk left in the cabinet. My girl goes back to sleep. But I sit in darkness in the living room, holding her for the rest of the night.
At 7 a.m. my husband gets up and gets ready to walk to work. I beg him not go, fearing that he will be struck by a car in this weather. The snow has stopped, but it is about 3 feet deep. He fears that he will be fired, so he kisses our daughter and walks out the door into the snow.
At 9:30 p.m., my husband comes home with his parents, who have made it through the mountains from North Carolina in the snow. They have food and begin to bring it in. I am not afraid anymore, but I can’t eat.
November 21, 2011. I go to the pantry in my garage and open both sets of doors and look at the cans of food, cereal boxes, cakes mixes, instant mashed potatoes, soup, macaroni and cheese, sugar, flour, canned milk, canned vegetables, tuna, canned chicken, oatmeal, rice, dried beans, cookies, chips, and popcorn. I realize that my dread of this day was never about being hungry. It was about remembering the fear and shame of that hungry 18-year-old girl.
I wanted the day to end, not so I could eat, but so I could forget again. But I cannot forget, because that would truly be a sin. Perhaps now I will remember why I cannot rest while there are hungry people in this world. I should not rest.
Rev. Andria Cantrell is a pastor at Dunean United Methodist Church in Greenville, SC.
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