Monday, May 6, 2013

A thought about food and paying attention

I was walking out of a restaurant in Chinatown with a friend when a man walking past us caught my eye.

Now, here is the deal, and this is a confession. When people stop me in the streets of DC, I usually assume one of two things. One, they are college students getting paid crap money to try to get my name on their clipboard for UNICEF/Planned Parenthood/HRC. Or two, they are asking for money.

This is not something I am happy with about myself. There are all sorts of other reasons for someone to stop me. To ask for directions, maybe. Or maybe they're a friend I don't recognize saying hi. One time a guy stopped me because I was carrying my guitar and he wanted to tell me about a gig I should try to get. Or maybe someone just wants me to pay attention to what a beautiful day it is.

But I always assume it's about money. So when this man started talking to me outside of the Eat First Chinese Restaurant, I gave my standard response: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't have any cash."

"No, no," he said, and then made a sort of universally recognized gesture to his mouth, "I'm wondering if you have anything to eat?"

He had spotted that I was carrying a bag with leftovers from the restaurant.

"Oh! Yeah. Sure," I said, and handed him the bag. "'s General Tso's chicken." I shrugged as if to say, 'Not sure you like that.'

"Great, thanks," he said. We parted ways.

So here's the thing. When he stopped me, I wasn't mindful of the fact that I was carrying food. It wasn't until he pointed it out that I thought, "Oh. Right. I have extra food and can easily give it away." Because I'm used to having extra food. It's a normal occurrence in my life. A background noise. To have not only enough, but more than enough.

And there are plenty of people--way, way too many people in this city that it is cliched for me to point out is the capital city of the richest most powerful country on this planet--who not only don't have more than enough, they don't have enough. Food insecurity is rampant in DC.

So I'm grateful for my friends who remind me to be mindful of this. Like Andy and Erica and David and Veronica, who cook food for folks who don't have it down at the St. Luke's Mission Center. Or Rachel, who refuses to let us throw away extra food. Or the AU students who take a Saturday a month to help out at a food bank in Maryland when they could be studying or partying or sleeping in. Or all of my friends who stop and pray before we eat--I'm so bad at that!--so that we can take a few seconds to be grateful and mindful and to remind ourselves that the hands that brought us this food might be numbered with those who don't have enough.

It starts with an awareness. With a prayer.

With paying attention.

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