We drank the last of the coffee this morning. That sentence appearing in “Little House on the Prairie” would send Pa on a four-day drive to Independence through a howling nor’easter during which Ma and the girls would lock themselves in the shabby safety of their cabin with candle stubs and cornbread for company. For us, it just means a stop at the grocery store after swim class. It’s not just coffee though. The crock of Cuban bean soup we’ve been dipping into the last several days is down to a few lumps of carrot and chorizo. We’ve finished all but half a liter of milk. Our choice of fruit is between lemon and lime. It’s clearly time to direct some of my attention to the kitchen.
And yet thousands of people are missing among the cracks and waves of a crumbling earth. Nuclear reactors combust. A displaced sea claims lives, livelihoods. Our planet wrenches on its axis. Three thousand miles away in Cambodia, a friend washes the feet of little girls sold by their own parents to be sex slaves. My heart wrenches on its axis, cracks, combusts. Every compassionate impulse spins like a splintered home in the current, and I’m helpless to do anything but watch and breathe through half-strangled heartbeats that I hope count as prayers.
It is hard for me to assimilate these feelings as anything other than guilt. If only I had the truckfuls of cash to fund relief organizations or the skills to join a rescue team or the strength to hold our world and the innocence of its children intact, if only I could do more… but I can’t, and leaving aspects of our everyday life undone feels like the only way to atone.
Writing it out like this helps me reassemble the pieces of my perspective. Caring for the everyday minutiae of my family is its own tender act of service. Stocking my pantry may not have any effect on a global level, but it matters to the eternal souls who fill this home, and meeting these small-scale needs in no way diminishes the big. In fact, it affirms our humanness—our ability to care for each other even as we reel in tragedy’s aftershocks.
Still, as I pull out a pen to jot down a grocery list, I would give anything to be filling the fissures and craters and raw, gaping hurts in this world rather than our coffee jar.