“Curious children crowded close, ragged children who ate their fried dough as they watched. They watched hungrily the unwrapping of the sandwiches, and their hunger-sharpened noses smelled the pickle, cheese, and Spam. They didn’t speak to the driver. They watched his hand as it carried food to his mouth. They did not watch him chewing; their eyes followed the hand that held the sandwich.”
The above passage, found in Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, is a small, yet significant, reflection of the moral richness of his writings. When I first read over this passage, I stopped to ponder the visual image of these children and realized that in this passage, Steinbeck brilliantly distinguishes between desire and need.
Children who would desire what the man is eating, simply for desire’s sake, would look at the food but even more so at the eater. This they would do trying to induce guilt with the hope of acquiring the object of their desire –his sandwich. Not so, hungry children. Hungry children watch the food. Nothing distracts them. They watch only the man’s hand because it holds the sandwich. They do not wish to intrude upon the man, just satisfy the aching in their stomachs.
This lack of intrusion reveals their dependence. These hungry children stand by silently, trustingly, believing their needs will be met. Why? Because it is humane? Because it is right? No, because of their faith in others. Are their needs met? No. And neither are the needs met in the lives of the Okies (USA back in the 1930s Dust Bowl era– not a college football game).
In Steinbeck’s book, these hungry trusting children are the Okies. That pickle, cheese, and Spam sandwich is the California promise-land. And the tractor driver who eats his sandwiches without notice of the hungry children around him, that man is all of us who, for whatever reason, refuse to help lift the burden of those in need.
What a timeless tale that unfortunately keeps playing out. Consider the plight of the Okies and then consider the plight of the homeless, marginally homeless, and various refugees throughout the world. Could sharing a sandwich make a difference to them?
During this week of Thanksgiving (in the USA) consider donating locally, if there is nothing locally, then nationally or globally, but give to an organization that helps feed the hungry. Food pantries (people and pets), shelters that offer meals or organizations that are working to provide stability for refugees, marginally homeless, and homeless throughout the lands. Be a blessing to someone this Thanksgiving season.
Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. Isaiah 58:10
Contingent – a bit of poetry on the subject of need