Blogpost: An Ecology or an Ego?

A couple of days ago, I was hungry, stressed, short on time and not too far from my favorite eatery. I have always preferred cooking at home to eating out, particularly since everything has gotten so pricey. So I tend not to go there much. It was late morning. I had skipped breakfast and needed some blood sugar before making an upcoming commitment. I decided to treat myself and go there anyway. It’s one of several counters in a food court. I entered the building and walked up to the counter as they were opening. It was a beautiful day. So, I took my food to eat outside. Since the place just opened, I was pretty much the only one.

The meal (I always get the same one) is so deliciously fragrant and colorful that passersby often stop to ask me what it is. They usually say it looks delicious and they’d like to go and get one. A woman does so after I first sit down and I tell her. I’m almost done with my meal when a profoundly traumatized man walks by. He’s exuding the kind of deep trauma that even imprudent people have enough sense to look away from, to pretend not to see. Neither prudence nor sensible imprudence have ever been among my discernible character traits. So, I look right at him. He’s half pushing and half leaning on a shopping cart full of who knows what. His face is so bloated that his eyes are half shut. He’s dressed in sweats that look like they get worn all of the time rather than just for working out.

We make eye-to-eye contact and I don’t look away or back to my meal because there is an honest-to-God human being trying to make contact through this person’s terribly distressed appearance. He maintains a respectful or perhaps fearful distance as he speaks. His words are so garbled that I can’t understand them. Even his mouth is traumatized. He is a big man, but he talks like and exudes the presence of an unwashed baby. His actual age is indeterminate, so I might be as much as fifty years older than he is. He falls silent after speaking very briefly, and looks at me hopefully and humbly. I realize that he has just asked me for the scraps of food that are left on my plate.

I happen to have just enough cash on me to buy a plate of the food I was eating. I hand it to him and tell him where to get it. I sit back down as he walks toward the door. I look up and notice him just standing on the pavement without actually entering. I realize that he might be too embarrassed to enter. Even if not, he is so dirty and disheveled, there’s a good chance he would be refused service or even get thrown out. Without giving it a second thought, I walk over and ask him if he’d like for me to go in and buy him a plate of food. He nods “yes.” So I walk back in (past a security guard that I didn’t remember seeing before) and get him the same thing I had. I emerge from the food court, place the meal on top of the full cart he’s leaning on. I say a heartfelt “God bless you,” and head on my way.

This was not an act of charity. I didn’t give anything away. It’s like God walks up, shoots you a look that reminds you of every single blessing you’ve ever had—a look that also asks you if you might also just happen to be grateful. This is in retrospect, of course. I walked away at the time totally overwhelmed that anyone (knowing there are so many others as well) should have to live like that in such an affluent society. Then I woke up from a deep sleep a couple of days later, realizing that I had also been blessed with a closing topic for the monograph I’ve been struggling with seemingly forever. This topic is a lot more meaningful and to-the-point than the conclusion I had written previously. The new topic is a question. Is your “image and likeness” of the Creator an ecology or an ego?

Published by hajb

Hassaun A. Jones-Bey is the founder, owner, and entire staff of Peace Jungle Music, Poetry, and Stories in Oakland, CA. The hypothesis advanced in "A Blues Gospel for Anthropocene?" is based on more than a decade of academic research in Black Church and Africana Religion, and in Ethnomusicology.

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