I read an honest-to-goodness “life changing” article when I was a kid, and it came back this week like the Ghost Of News Articles Past.
I’m pretty sure the article came from Catholic Digest: a woman writing about how her church took up a food collection to help a parish family on hard times. She grudgingly bought a whole bunch of cheap stuff and shoved it in a paper bag. Two months later, she herself fell on hard times, and the person who’d done the food collection showed up at her door — holding her paper bag. “There was a mistake, and we forgot to deliver your food, so we’re giving it back to you.”
So here’s this woman now on hard times, in need of food — and she’s got this bag of crap, and she can’t even be furious at the person who donated it because she was the one who donated it. Ever since then, she wrote, she made sure to donate only things she really liked. When her church would put out a call for food donations, she’d look on her shelves and think, “I’d better give them coffee. I can’t live without my coffee.”
For all my adult life, I will only donate food I myself eat. (Exception: when they ask for something gross, I buy it.) I try to buy multipacks and cull out donations from those.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, I managed to keep my freezer cold for the first 36 hours, but at that point the stuff toward the front started getting warm. I called a friend who had power: “Are you hungry? How about half a freezer full of food?”
Either way, it was gone to me. Either it went rotten and I didn’t have it anymore, or she ate it and I didn’t have it anymore. I preferred the latter.
I ended up getting her husband on the phone, and he said, “Um…sure,” so I went through the freezer packing a cooler with anything still frozen rock-hard. But there was a lot, so I pulled out the best stuff. The frozen seafood, the chicken wings… I dropped it off with her husband, saying, “Don’t worry about returning the cooler any time soon. It’s not as if I have anything to keep cold.”
With that food out of the freezer, I was able to put in a bag of ice to try keeping the rest cold, and it worked, somewhat. I cooked some of the remainder the next day on the propane stove, and the rest I wrote off as a loss.
Well, God has a sense of humor. Clearly.
Last night, I came home to find the cooler sitting beside the fridge, and my husband said, “Look what came home.”
Because my friend brought back everything. I was perfectly happy with her feeding her family, but instead she brought back everything, and that’s the irony: because I packed up the best stuff to bring to her, what came back to me was the best.
There’s a lesson here for me, putting the “I” in irony. It’s Ecclesiastes 11 in real life: Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
And that’s not what I intended. I intended to feed someone, and instead she’s feeding me.