Compassion is the Strongest Thing

Compassion is the Strongest Thing April 18, 2020

Downtown at the Friendship Room, things are as bleak as ever. It was difficult getting healthy and substantial food into poor people living in a food desert in the first place; now it’s a nightmare. They are passing out plates of dinner and filling the free pantry with cans constantly. They’ve placed a cardboard box of whatever fresh produce they can manage to get next to the cupboard, and it gets picked over quickly. They beg online for someone to bring them boxes of that shelf-stable milk that can be carried easily and then kept in the fridge when it’s opened– the physical address is 419 Logan Street, Steubenville, Ohio, 43952, by the way, in case anyone wants to send or bring them a case.  Steubenville also has InstaCart if you’d rather send something that way. They’ll pass along any groceries they get.

The same is true all over the country: people are desperate, and they’re hungry. There are lines outside of food banks going all the way down the street. This is the life we live now. The poor have always been with us, and right at the moment there are thousands more poor people than ever.

Meanwhile, I keep seeing news stories of farmers wasting food. I’ve seen fresh, perfectly good milk dumped all over the dairy floor, mountains of rotting squash, a maddening video of a tractor plowing a whole field of bright lettuce right back into the soil. Restaurants and resorts are closed, so their usual buyers aren’t making orders. The purveyors feel they have to destroy their food to keep the prices up or they won’t make money.

And I know that individual farmers aren’t to blame for this. I know they have to turn a profit or they won’t be able to have a farm in the first place, to feed their families or anybody else. But I am furious with the system we’ve created. Food isn’t for eating; it’s for making money, and we destroy it when it’s profitable to do so. Houses aren’t for living in; they’re an investment, and we keep many houses vacant to maintain their monetary value. People aren’t for their own sake, but for getting back to work so they can jack up the stock market and make the affluent more affluent.

The world is a terrible place, the stupidity is beyond anything I can imagine, and if God was the vindictive God I believed in in my childhood I would be certain that COVD-19 was a just punishment for our greed.

Meanwhile, yesterday, a friend came to visit– she was driving through and left groceries on our porch. They were much better groceries than I usually buy for myself: farmer’s market food, eggs with orange yolks and bright yellow butter and free range beef.

She also brought green onions and two heads of lettuce– it happened to be the same species of lettuce that the farmer was plowing to bits in his field. That felt like an eerie coincidence.

We couldn’t welcome her inside because of social distancing, but I did go for a walk around LaBelle with her, carefully a few arms’ lengths apart. I showed her where my favorite gardens are, and my favorite houses to admire, and where you can stand on the edge of the neighborhood and look over the cliff at the cliffs of West Virginia. Rosie rode at a distance on her bike and told her which houses had handed out king size candy at Halloween.

It was the most socialization I’d gotten since long before the pandemic began. I made sure she dropped off some of the food she brought at the Friendship Room on her way home, and I made room in my shopping budget to buy extra food for the Friendship Room later this month since I don’t have to buy groceries for the week. I was happy all day after she left.

The world is a beautiful place and everything is going to be all right.

Here’s my meditation for today: good is much stronger than evil.

All the things that our culture has presented to us as weaknesses– compassion, love, friendship, sharing– these are the strongest things there are. These are the things that don’t break. These are the arms that can bend a bow of bronze and win the spiritual struggle. Two heads of lettuce and a walk with a friend stopped my despair. A basket of bread and fish fed five thousand people in the Gospels. I firmly believe that enough compassionate people doing the small compassionate things they have the power to do, stand a chance to radically change our society. In fact, I think it’s the only thing that does stand a chance.

Evil, by comparison, is weak. Evil has to roar to get our attention. It took several farms’ worth of ruined vegetables to get me good and angry at the state of the world, but one trunkful of groceries and a walk with a friend renewed my hope. A massive cacophony of greed made the world this rotten and is threatening us all with extinction. But each of us taking our widow’s mite of care might save the day.

Don’t lose your anger at evil. But remember what’s actually strong enough to put evil to flight.

The Holy Ghost has given us all that power, if only we allow it to  work.

 

Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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