Standing in line at a local food bank, I was surprised by the range of emotions which washed over, and through me; and at some fundamental level the sense of failure choked the breath in my throat and made it all but impossible to breathe. I looked into the soaped over glass storefront and I could see my reflection. My face was white, eyes shining and bright with barely held emotion. This was a face I had never witnessed before. I felt a stranger in a strange land.
“First time isn't it?” A gravelly smoky voice spoke to my right ear.
I turned and looked down and into the wizened dried apple face of a woman with bright beautiful blue eyes.
“Is it that obvious?” I asked.
She reached out with a hand soft and silky, as only the very old posses and said, “Yes dear it is obvious. But not ruinously so. Everyone here has gone through what you are going through right now. You are not amongst strangers, nor are you alone.”
The emotions I had been holding in check burst through my feeble attempts and I could feel hot runnels of water running down my cheeks. The woman reached into a handbag large enough to carry a small child in and pulled out tissues. She handed them to me with a concerned look in her eye and a silent nod of affirmation.
Once I had regained my composure, she again dug through her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Smoke?” she offered.
We stood there and silently smoked. The reassurance a cigarette gives is something those who have never smoked will never know.
At some point my dried apple faced woman touched me on the arm and said, “Hunger is a foe, we can only hope to fight to an armistice. We never ever defeat it.”
I don’t know what I was expecting but philosophy in a food line was not it.
“Not all of us are ill educated, government-assisted louts looking for a free hand out. I myself taught school for 35 years. But one does, what one must, when the Devil calls the tune.” She said as her bright eyes took on a hard gimlet cast.
I admit several hours later, as I was driving home with a trunk filled with groceries, I began to cry again. I cried when I unloaded, and diligently placed the food into my empty pantry. But I did not cry when my daughter came home from school that afternoon and I had food to place on her plate