How Cheescake Changed My View of Solidarity

I can’t stop thinking about cheesecake.  It’s not because I crave it (I do) or about how many calories are in a slice (a lot), or even about how to translate Mary Berry’s recipe from The Great British Baking Show into something bakeable in America (impossible).  I can’t stop thinking about how easy it was to eat, and why I wish I hadn’t.

Last weekend, my husband and I celebrated our 6th anniversary with an overnight getaway.  We enjoyed dinner out and stopped off at a few places before deciding to pick up dessert on our way back to our hotel room.  We had – you guessed it – cheesecake. It was delicious. The filling was perfectly creamy and well-balanced, the crust just the right texture, and the fresh berries had just the right tartness to accompany it.  This cheesecake was heaven.

But that’s not why I keep thinking about it.  On our walk back from the restaurant to the room, we passed a young woman digging through the trash can, presumably searching for something to eat.  This woman was young – maybe in her twenties – thin, and blond. She was wearing a white t-shirt, relatively clean. I remember these details because I considered her long enough to remember her.  I wish I could say that it simply hadn’t occurred to me that I was carrying an untouched, deliciously inviting piece of cheesecake as I watched this young woman rummage through the garbage for something to eat.  I wish I could say that.

No, I watched her, felt for her, and briefly considered offering her our cheesecake.  Why didn’t I? I was uncomfortable at the disparity in our situations, uncertain of how she might react.  I’ve offered food before, to a variety of mixed reactions. I didn’t want to disappoint my husband by giving away our celebratory anniversary dessert.  (Although in retrospect, he is usually the more generous of the two of us in these situations. I asked him about it later, and he said he wouldn’t have minded.)  Was it any of these reasons? We passed her, I thought about it, and I just….didn’t. The moment was gone. We went up to our room, and we enjoyed our cheesecake.  

I had the chance to make the world kinder and more bearable for someone who was struggling, maybe even suffering, and I chose not to.  There was nothing explicitly malicious in my choice. I bore her no ill will. I genuinely felt for her, and wanted the world to be better for her.  Just not enough to do something about it. It would have been so simple. “Excuse me, ma’am. “ Lift the bag. “Would you like this cheesecake?” Done.

Looking back, it’s not only the lost opportunity I regret.  It’s how easy it was for me to walk by and do nothing. It doesn’t get that easy unless it’s a habit.  Generosity is a habit – one that I, evidently, am lacking.

Like the Priest and the Levite, I pass by the bleeding and broken in my life.  The Good Samaritan simply does what any decent person would do; he recognizes a man in a dire situation and he helps him.  I missed the opportunity to offer kindness to this lady because somewhere along the way, I’ve it a habit to pass by, to be self-involved, to do nothing.

In itself, each missed opportunity is negligible.  How often do I choose to browse Pinterest while my husband sits next to me on the couch?  How simple it would be choose instead to ease his burdens by rubbing his neck or simply being present to him.  When my children interrupt me, I could let go of irritation, choosing instead to embrace the opportunity to hold them, to sit in my join at their existence.  I make purchases not bothering to look the checker in the eye, let alone offer a smile. That’s how I could walk past someone hungry enough to dig through the garbage, my stomach full, and fail to offer the food in my hands; it’s the apathy I practice every day.

We are all hungry.  Hungry for food, hungry for love, starved for attention.  No wonder our Lord chooses to offer Himself to us in the form of bread.  Only Love satisfies.

We are all hungry, and we all have the power to feed one another.  It’s the simplest thing, to turn to one another and offer the gift of ourselves.  But we’ve made a habit of withholding. We have the opportunity to be God’s tenderness and mercy for one another; how often we choose otherwise.  We get in the habit of building up walls, counting our merits instead of our blessings.

If only we could see one another with God’s eyes and feel with God’s heart.  If we could see one another with reverence, with the kind of awe befitting God’s beloved, we might foster peace instead of intolerance.  We might have the patience to accompany the dying in their suffering rather than hurrying their dying. We might recognize the wonder in the face of the immigrant and in the heartbeat of the unborn.  If only we could cultivate reverence for the immanence of God in the face of one another. That – not cheesecake – would be heaven.

4 thoughts on “How Cheescake Changed My View of Solidarity

  1. I can see God working on your heart and you receiving the message. Our church is downtown and surrounded by homeless and mentally ill people, some of whom come to Mass. We learn that the most important thing we can do is say hello and make eye contact. Our priest asks us not to give money directly but put it in the poor box. He knows the people and can tell who really needs it and who doesn’t. But eye contact and hello is free.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I agree that being welcoming and hospitable is essential to our role as Church, and not only to the homeless, but to one another as well.

      I’ve heard from many sources that the most painful struggle in homelessness is the invisibility. One lady told my husband that someone simply asking her name and calling her by it made her feel human again. Really, I think that is something that applies to all of us. We never really know what is going on inside of someone else, or how our smile or hello might impact them.

      I understand where your pastor is coming from in trying to effectively and pastorally manage a situation at his parish. I have to wonder, though, if it’s possible for us to know who really needs what. On a personal level, I’d rather err on the side of generosity, and let God sort out the rest.

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      1. I think he is aware that the same person will ask a lot of us for money and he wants to curtail that. Many parishioners are uncomfortable with being asked, so it also gives them a way to help without interacting. Sadly a lot of people come in from the burbs and are frightened by the homeless.

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  2. Undoubtedly, and if I were a priest I would probably worry about losing those parishioners, too. But I think we can do better. That seems like a missed opportunity to help Catholics be better Catholics. If we are afraid to interact with one another, we are missing the opportunity to love and to welcome the stranger as Christ. How much more powerful might it be to focus on welcome, hospitality, and solidarity, rather than to discourage interaction. Especially at the Eucharistic table, I would hope that we would ask what we can learn from and give to one another, rather than how quickly we can get out of the parking lot. The reality is that we are all in relationship with one another because we have the same Father. Refusing to acknowledge responsibility for one another doesn’t remove us from relationship; it just makes us bad at it.

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