A thousand times or more, I’ve wished there was somebody interesting to show you, instead of just me.
You deserve to read about a hero or a saint, but what you get is Mary Pezzulo, a dumpy and anxious middle aged woman who came from boring Columbus and lives in depressing Steubenville.
I’ve been a little under the weather lately, for a good reason. I got my polyvalent booster shot for the new COVID-19 variants, and it made me sick with a flu and body aches for 24 hours. It was certainly for a good cause and I’d do it again. I drowsed under the electric blanket and had vivid fever dreams that total strangers were yelling at me for something that wasn’t my fault.
When I woke up it was chilly and rainy. By the time I was well enough to move around, it got to be bright and sunny but much colder. The fatigue and chills from the covalent booster wore off, but the body aches got worse. Michael needed a ride downtown to get his own shot, so I ran him there in Serendipity. Now it will be his turn to be sick.
On my way back, I stopped at the food pantry. We remain in the worst limbo, living on tips, making too much to qualify for SNAP benefits every couple of months and then making next to nothing to make up for it weeks later. Some weeks we’re rich and some weeks we have nothing. December is starting to look like a crisis, since we’ll have to pay rent twice: once for our house and the same price again for the tax and registration on Serendipity when her two-month tag runs out. Right now we’re broke. The food pantry, mercifully, doesn’t make you prove monthly income. They just check your driver’s license to make sure you haven’t been there in weeks. I hadn’t been in a month or two.
The demand is so high lately that the food pantry couldn’t even provide turkeys at Thanksgiving this year. And they no longer have the grocery shop open to the public; they stuff your trunk with a box of mystery items selected from the four food groups. I tried to look grateful for the mystery boxes. When I got home and unloaded, I found I had fresh vegetables to delight the guinea pig for a week, bread and fritters that Michael could eat, pears that Adrienne enjoyed. There were potatoes and onions for potato soup that would knock me out of ketosis but will make Adrienne and Michael happy. There was even a can of tuna and a sack of raw nuts for me, and two pounds of organic frozen hamburger. If you’re the one who donated that, thank you. I’m thawing it for dinner now.
Next week, for all I know, we’ll be rich. Next week I might go to the Friendship Room with a cartload of soup and cornbread mix I bought myself to stock their free pantry. For now, I sorted out the food pantry items that three people, two of them with wheat allergies, definitely wouldn’t eat, to share with our neighbors who have even less. They can have the cake mix, the macaroni and the egg noodles.
It feels like cheating, donating food that somebody else donated to me. But it was perfectly good food that somebody without my allergies might like.
I remember when we were much poorer than this all the time, and I donated a sack of baked potatoes to the tiny temporary warming center that would one day become The Friendship Room. That’s the first chapter of my book, if you recall. I wrote about how guilty I felt for baking a whole sack of potatoes we were given and bringing them downtown on the bus to help Molly and Bill feed the homeless during a polar vortex. They weren’t my potatoes, after all. They were gift from a neighbor who knew we were poor. But I came to the conclusion that potatoes are always a gift. The potatoes I grew this summer are also a gift, from God, through the soil. Some potatoes are a gift from God, through being given enough money to buy them. Some potatoes are a gift from God through a friend bringing them to you. God always provides the potatoes. It’s our job to give thanks for them and return them to God by passing them around to each other.
I wrote that book when I was a lot surer about a lot of things. The horrifying events in Steubenville the past two years have all but beaten the faith out of me, and I feel lost. But I still believe there is a God who provides every gift, and we commune with that God by passing the gifts around.
I used to love the Eucharist. Lately the thought of it makes me ill with religious trauma. I don’t usually go to Communion when I can manage to force myself to go to Mass. But if what I was raised to believe is true, if what I want to believe is true, then the Eucharist is an impossible miracle and a wonder which begins with taking a gift of food and passing it around.
If what I want to believe is true, then our lives as Christians are a Eucharist– a movement of thanksgiving, of returning the gifts God gave us freely back to Him through loving one another. Everything we get is a gift from God, and we pass it along.
That was what I was ruminating as I packed up a bag of food I didn’t pay for to share with our neighbors.
Maybe I’ll have something more useful to tell you the next time I check in. But that’s where I am for now.
image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.