Lessons from the Food Bank

Image Credit: Heather Plett

In 2014, I supplemented our family’s food with weekly trips to a local food bank near where we were living at the time. No,  I am not too proud to wait in line for surplus day-old bread, canned goods, and whatever else the local food bank has on hand by the grace of Creator and generous donors. Without this weekly supplement to our food budget, we would not have been able to make ends meet. That’s not entirely true. We could have eaten, but we would not have been able to pay some other bills which would have led to a cascade of catastrophes culminating in no lights or water or gas. Not good. So I went early and I waited the three hours for the doors to open.

There is something wonderful that happens when womxn of color gather by purpose or by circumstance.  I called then my Kwan Yin, Tara Goddesses, a group of ladies who arrived early many times before I did and they became a cherished part of my week. From Korea, they talked comfortably with one another, observing their cultural traditions and behaviors that to me spoke clearly of their solidarity as women, and their respect for and loving actions with each other. One or two of them spoke some english, but it didn’t matter to me. I was content within the easy flow of their conversation, reading their body language, observing their rituals while not intruding or gawking.

The ladies who arrived later always came and said good day to the oldest of their group first. She took their hands gently, holding them for a few moments–a sweet gesture of affection. The women shared. There was laughter, news traded,  even a bit of gossip whispered, but mostly there was the unmistakable warmth generated when women of color gather.  I have experienced it before in my life, though not nearly as often as I wanted. It is a radiant energy that gave a lightness of being to my heart and opened a space for my spirit to smile and feel connected with these women, without a common tongue between us.

One of the women was knitting one morning and so I brought mine next time. She smiled and touched my stitches, nodding approval. I felt they had allowed me into their circle just a bit with that interaction. So when I arrived each Monday I started to nod, smile, and greet them in english, “Good morning!” They smiled, nodded, and returned my good morning with their own. We might exchange a few words about the weather. Then came the day a man with a rickety riding mower came to cut grass on the church grounds. A huge rock was kicked from under the unprotected blades. It screamed into the wooden porch support where we were all waiting, hitting the wood with such force, it sounded like a large caliber gunshot. The impact was inches from my head, where I sat in my green lawn chair.

As we all looked at the crushed wood in the porch support, and examined the heavy rock  streaked with paint from the wood and scored from the blades of the riding mower, a couple of the women touched my arm, saying “luck.” The oldest, looked at me pointed up and said, “God,” and smiled.  From then on, on Mondays she took my hand and gently patted it. Sometimes she’d tell me her knee was hurting. Other times she’d just smile.

Some years have passed since those Monday mornings. I don’t have the stamina and health for the food bank wait anymore. I’ve found other ways to scrape pennies together and contribute to our household survival. I miss my Tara ladies. I miss the stretch of hours when the necessity of the waiting let me slow down without guilt or the feeling that I was being lazy. I miss, most of all, that shared connection with other womxn of color.

I have tried so often throughout my life to capture that same connection when I have been in relationship with white women–in women’s groups, gatherings, clubs, conferences, rituals. It has never worked for me. I have always been reminded of and corrected to know my place, and very often it is done without any awareness on the white womens’ parts. Most of them never meant to harm me. That I believe. I have always believed in white women’s good intentions. It is the result of their actions that I can never abide.

When did I come to accept that the deep meaningful connection I share with womxn of color, expecially with Black womxn would always escape me with white women? There was no blazing epiphany, no “this is it” moment. Just a gradual and relentless counting coup of experiences that solidified into a knowing that trust with   white women would never be possible for me.

This is not to say that I don’t have productive or frutiful associations with white women. I do and I value those relationships for what they are. I don’t ever make the mistake of forgetting where we are and what we both are a part of, and why I can never be safe with white women.  I never forget, no matter how seductive the song that I am not “just like them” and they are not “just like me.” Self care and self preservation require this of me. I grieve the innocence I had when I believed that the world was inherently a good place. That all people are good, and that racism was an exception and not the rule. I understand at a deep place why it is that white people are so resistant to believing us. No one wants to give up “the dream.”

Going forward into these years of my life, my self-love is steeped in maintaining my equilibrium and my feet on the earth. Bitterness is useless, but it’s a lot like junk food. It can be really tasty. It will also rot you from the inside out. I am not bitter, but I do wonder. I question. I muse about what it will take for white women to get out of their own way.  Mostly I just try to find joy where it breaks through in my life. I am deeply grateful for that.

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