March 19, 2024 at 6:40 a.m.

Emptiness and Pain

By LARRY PERKINSON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

The corned beef and cabbage with carrots and potatoes was why I chose the Irish restaurant, but I never dreamed how much food would be on the plate. At my request the waiter returned with a carry-out container and some plasticware before the first bite had been taken.

There was plenty of time to savor the meal and to strategize. I was ready to eat, but the man whom I had passed on the sidewalk might have been starving. He was hungry and homeless and a block away, and I was not quite sure how to offer him a meal. Yet, when the crème brulee was finished, I had a thought.

Instead of reaching for coins or glancing away as I approached him, I asked, “Could you help me? Is there a place around here to drop off some food? My room doesn’t have a fridge or a microwave.”

We became partners when he responded, “I’ll take care of it for you.”

Leaving one meal didn’t change the big picture, but maybe it helped the moment. Too often the face of hunger sits close by, doesn’t it? Its haggard features nest on street corners. Its eyes stare blankly from the pictures in magazines. Whatever the origin, the piercing glares guilt me into asking, “Is this the one I should help?”

Obviously, most of us have seen hunger. I suppose I have even felt it, but I have not lived it. Eating late is an inconvenience. Missing breakfast is a choice. A belly growl is an insignificant faux pas that does not increase empathy or an understanding of a truly cruel condition.

In a world of seeming plenty there are problems that are hard to fathom. And if we can’t quite comprehend physical hunger, then how difficult is it to grasp that there are those who appear so full of something and yet are so completely empty at the same time? It’s what I call the sated void.

Were you ever consumed by a worry that was big enough to become the first thing you thought of in the morning and the last thing on your mind and heart when you fell asleep at night? And then it occupied your every waking thought as the concern announced itself a thousand times. An overwhelming trouble like that stuffs itself into the void it creates and expands until the pain is almost unbearable.

None of us face the same challenges in life, and some paths are rockier than others. The journey to emptiness is unique enough for the individuals who face it, but the basic problems can be identified. Grief and anger and regret can fill a body until there is no room for love of self or anyone else. So can shame and fear and depression. And they have cohorts like hunger who join them in gnawing at hope until the spirit, like the body, is indigent and starving.

Did you know that a cake that is starting to get a little dry can be revived with bread? Now admittedly cake doesn’t last very long at my house, but on the rare occasions when only a few pieces are eaten, the exposed surface can be protected by placing a piece or two of bread against it. The moisture transfers from the bread to the cake and keeps it fresh.

Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy to help people …. if we could just carry around a daily slice to wedge against an empty spot in a soul that needs refreshed? Getting that done might take a truckload of Wonder Bread and some partnerships as well.

Adapted from “Emptiness and Pain,” Nudge Me Gently, 2015.