Love in a Soup Cup.

The question was posed recently-when did I think I first understood what love meant? I thought for a second, about the typical responses that question might elicit-from my parents, the first time I fell in love, my first experiences owning a pet (or a plant,even). For me, though, the answer came immediately…and was something far different.
A few summers ago, I was spending some time in DC, working. It had been a rough couple of months for me, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more uncertain about the direction of things than I was at that point. Nonetheless, I had been working incredibly hard, and when an unforeseen afternoon off presented itself, I decided to brave the stifling heat to go play in the city. I walked through the park near my hotel, the same one I walked through each day on my way to the train, and came upon the usual midday cast of suits and the homeless, bustlers and old men playing chess. As I looked ahead, I saw a crowd gathered, near what appeared to be a lunch truck and a few tables set up on the sidewalk. As I got closer, I realized that there were a few people serving food, to anyone who was interested. For free. There were no conditions-if you were hungry, they would feed you. And while no money changed hands, what was being exchanged was humanity. All those park inhabitants, people who would typically never regard one another, found themselves engaged in conversation. Tethered to their spots by overflowing soup cups, they were forced to slow down…and in doing so, really see the others around them. And it was all because three people decided to feed others.
Anyone who knows me, knows what high value I place on the idea of the unifying nature of food, of nourishment, and its natural communal effect. So, it’s not surprising to know that I was so fulfilled by bearing witness to what was occurring. I slowed down myself, to people watch, and then I looked down at the curb next to the truck. There sat a woman, who was presumably one of those involved in the planning of this impromptu meal on the sidewalk, and next to her sat a man. This gentleman was reed-thin, clearly without adequate means to care for himself, and could barely hold up his head. Drool spilled intermittently from the sides of his mouth. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hands were dirty. And that woman was slowly feeding him soup, pausing between spoonfuls to hold his hand, to talk to him. What I felt I experienced in that moment was the most radical, pure act of love I had ever witnessed in my life. It threw me off balance for a moment, and I swallowed hard to keep from crying. Tears came anyway. The woman met my eye, and I realized I had been looking a bit too long. She smiled at me, I returned the gesture, and kept moving.
I thought all afternoon about what I had seen that woman do for that man. That man who maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t, but regardless, she fed him. Nourished him, without condition. As someone who has devoted her life to serving others, particularly those who are most vulnerable to the things which are most devastating in this world, I knew then that replicating that act of compassion and love had to be a central driving force in my work, my life. And yes, it’s incredibly hard on some days, when people act in ways that feel less than deserving of that love. But I remind myself that reciprocity is not the point. The point is that my responsibility is to make each life in which I enter just a bit better than it was before I arrived, and to do so without expectation of something in return.

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