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Muffled whimpering interrupted my thoughts as I strained to listen to the speaker at the podium. I ignored it briefly, as best I could. Being the sole American in attendance at this meeting of 30 or so Filipinas in a remote squatters community center I didn’t want to bring attention to myself, or the sobbing woman.
More time passed and I discreetly glanced to my right and watched silent tears course down the withered face of an elderly Filipina woman sitting next to me.
Unsure what to do, I turned towards my Filipina friend to my left and quietly whispered, “She’s crying, what do I do? Why is she crying?”.
She peered around me and softly uttered some Tagalog towards the quietly weeping woman.
The womans’ brief response concerned me, until I saw her arthritic fingers move slowly in a circular motion around her abdomen, then slowly placing her thumb to fingers she pulled her hand upwards towards her mouth, slightly parted, and then back down to her stomach, rubbing slowly again in a circular motion.
Wonderingly, I asked my friend, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
She sat upright, cupping her mouth in her hand and said, “She has hunger. She’s not eaten for some days.”
Stunned, I quickly whispered, “I have a granola bar in my bag, can I give it to her?”
She nodded her head emphatically. I dug in, retrieved the bar quietly and hid it beneath the palm of my hand so the other 30 or so Filipinas around us would not see it and beg for one also.
My eyes locked in with hers and I motioned downward toward the semi-concealed granola bar. She audibly gasped, placed her hand on my arm as fresh tears brimmed the rim of her eyes, and softly took the bar from my outstretched hand.
Her hands folded within her lap, she quietly began to peel away the wrapper. Not an easy task in a near silent meeting room.
Suddenly without warning, a toddler sitting on his mothers lap behind us leaned his thin frame entirely forward, dropping his chin on the shoulder of this Mamang (Elderly Filipina woman/grandmother). His deep dark eyes spoke volumes as they unabashedly removed the wrapper, bit, chewed and devoured the granola bar he could see sitting in the womans’ lap.
I was torn. I didn’t have another granola bar. I knew this woman was starving to the point of tears. Yet here was a child in the same plight.
Yet the decision was not mine to make. I had already given the bar away.
And unaware to my inner turmoil, their inner circle of love and community was already in effect.
Without hesitation, the Mamang softly turned her head to the small boy and lifted the bar upward, offering it to him.
Not even having taken a bite herself.
The boys eyes locked with hers. Questioning. Was it for him?
The briefest nod was given.
The boy gently grasped the bar with his small hand, bowed his head, and just as his lips were about to close on his first bite he glanced furtively over his left shoulder…..into the face of the woman holding him, his mom.
The circle continued as he closed his mouth and slowly yet carefully offered the bar to his mom.
She quickly looked around, unsure where the bar had come from, or who it was meant for. I turned, smiled and nodded encouragingly, trying to say with my eyes, “yes, eat, it’s for you”.
She broke off a piece and placed it in the now salivating mouth of her toddler. She broke another piece and placed it in her own mouth. She glanced to the woman on HER left, who at this point was avidly watching the journey of this 5” granola bar as it circulated among the circle of chairs.
The bar was handed to her, she peeled back the last few inches to break off a piece when the woman next to me gave an audible moan, clutching her stomach.
I realized, as did those around me, she, the one who began with the tears of hunger, had had none.
The bar was broken again into another bite sized piece, and the final 1/2 inch was passed forward again to Mamang, completing the circle of generosity.
And now the silent tears coursing down the cheek were my own.
Reveling in the beauty of this infinite circle of love and sacrifice.
Astonished to witness the outward compassion towards others despite great needs within.
A complete circle of connection.
A circle of commitment to all in the community regardless of name, birth, age, or relationship.
A circle of infinite love and genuine concern for ‘the least of these among us’.
A circle that never ends.