Three little kids shared their dessert with me, letting me choose first, yet letting me know that “The best thing about a meal is the dessert.” They waited for their turn so that everyone on the table got their share. One pined for the wedge shaped piece but patience trumped anticipation.
I am not used to children like that. I am used to children with indulgent parents who make sure that they eat their cakes before anyone else does, whose sense of entitlement shows, and children who cry with impunity when they don’t get dessert.
It was a refreshing day and a humbling day. For all us cocooned within our intellectual comfort zones, tenured, with 10-page cvs, well read and articulate, “humbling” is a rare word. We pride ourselves on books we write, theories we espouse, fields we claim our authority on, and we count the number of google hits on our critical scholarship on poverty and class dynamics. We belong to the richest country in the world; teach in established universities - and our world crumbles when interlibrary loans appear a day too late or when we pay an extra $200 on health care.
We share this world with children who wait all day for a meal, and who find that meals are increasingly rare during summer when school is closed. They are children from neighborhoods across America. They are also individuals who wait for their turn on the table.
Dessert was indeed the best part of dinner.
But we had to wait.
Agape Community Center’s large gymnasium was loud and bright. It was cool too. About 60 residents from the neighborhood and some from out of the immediate area, turned up at 5:30 PM for the community meal. Many came in early and they carefully chose their seats, grabbed their blue-green platters, flimsy white plastic cutlery, and thermacol cup with a napkin. It seemed like a well-rehearsed ritual perfected over many years. We first spotted them from the second floor conference room where we were working. The windows of the conference room overlooked the gym, like executive offices overseeing the factory floors a century ago. Some waved back at us; I moved back in embarrassment. Foucault haunted me and I felt incapable of a simple act of waving back.
At 5:30 we trooped down, all 18 of us. It seemed like a ritual. A loud deafening whistle; Al shouting over his own echo; a soft murmur creeping along the floor; a prayer; claps; recognitions; and then a sudden silence of anticipation. Then appeared the spaghetti bowl. Then the salad, then garlic bread, then milk, and finally water.
From the back of my eye I could see silhouettes of many individuals who shaped this moment. They were those who we may never ever thank. And how could we? They appeared for a moment and then disappeared into the crowd – into oblivion. They are the ones who sustain life in the dark corners of a country whose gross domestic product is $14.59 Trillion. They are the one whose job is to make life better for those elderly, children and single mothers who go hungry. They are the ones who give us the luxury of spending $663.84 billion on wars in foreign countries so that the ones we pretend to care for are actually fed.
And they fed me too; no questions, no fees, no over draft fees, no checking account fees, no savings minimum, no check cashing fees, no finance changes. Oh! They didn’t even expect a smile back in return.
I am glad I did this field school. It gave me a chance to learn a bit more about me and the world I live in.