Bring on long-handled spoons

A man from India told how his wife and he often have non-Indian guests over for dinner – typically a sumptuous Indian meal that she makes.

Everyone digs into their rice and daal, hariyali chicken and prawn curry with silverware. Then, his daughter clears her throat and quietly asks if she can please just eat with her hands.

To her, a fork isn’t a sign of Western cultural superiority; it’s a nuisance and serves no useful function in an Indian meal. Hand-eating is what we do.

Invariably he and his wife started following their daughter’s lead, thinking, “Well, if she can eat with her hands, why can’t we?” And then, a couple weeks later, the father decided it was time for him, finally, to hand-eat in public.

He chose fish from a restaurant in South India. As he plunged his hand into the pile of rice and fish curry and some thin, tangy rasam, he expected a couple of stares at the least.

Instead, a couple of old men approached him and asked for Indian restaurant recommendations — deeply anticlimactic. So, hand-eaters of America, join him!

I’m getting closer to the point I want to make.

Another parable. One day a man said to God, “I would like to know what heaven and hell are like.”

God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles, and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get their spoons back around and into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen hell.”

Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well-nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

“I don’t understand,” the man said.

“It is simple,” God said. “Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves.” (Author unknown)

Sometimes, thinking solely of our own needs, we tend to forget our interdependence with everyone and everything around us, so much so that we stop caring about them. But, as the parable makes clear, by doing so, not only don’t we help others overcome their suffering, but we’re also unconsciously harming ourselves, since we are all connected on a very deep level.

Now, the point I want to make.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, my Multiple Sclerosis makes eating with shaky hands quite difficult. I love to meet people, share stories and “walk a mile in their shoes.” I take a deep breath, though, when a meal is involved, and I am grateful when finger food, rather than silverware is used, an infrequent possibility.

I love the movie Driving Miss Daisy. It’s about the relationship of an elderly, white, Southern Jewish woman, Daisy Warthin, and her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn, from 1948 to 1973.

They are initially wary of each other, and Hoke puts up with the somewhat crotchety Miss Daisy with dignity. She teaches Hoke to read, having been a teacher. Ultimately, they form a friendly bond, with Miss Daisy inviting Hoke to accompany her to a dinner for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The part where my stomach tightens is after Daisy has a stroke. Sitting at her nursing home dining room table, she greets elderly, grey-haired Hoke, who notices she is having difficulty eating a slice of Thanksgiving pie. The movie ends tenderly with Hoke feeding the appreciative Daisy.

My dream is to share a meal with a room full of people, each one with their long-handled spoon.

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese and Calix for Siouxland, and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.

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