The Parable of the Little Chocolate Doughnuts
I was a precocious six-year old and the best reader in the whole first grade. Because of this distinction, I was named the narrator of the most highly anticipated blockbuster production of 1975 – the Eastside Elementary School first grade play! I was so excited for my big day on stage. I would be sporting a fabulous white dress embroidered with tulips that highlighted the spring theme of the program. And I was certain everyone would realize how special I was when they heard how well I read!
And then I got chicken pox.
I was devastated. My grandmother came and stayed with me for a week and made me chicken & dumplings and warm homemade bread with butter, and fresh pie from the rhubarb that grew in the woods behind our house Meanwhile, I lay on the couch, watched “The New Zoo Review” and scratched. But even Grandmother love and Freddie the Frog couldn’t make up for the pain of my ruined theatrical debut.
My mother was a second grade teacher at my school and in those days, just about anything was permissable in schools as long as no one died or bled. So to assuage my loss, Mom decided she’d take me with her class a few weeks later on their field trip to Lion Country Safari. This was one of those animal preserves where you could sit back in the comfort of your car or school bus and drive through to see exotic animals like zebras and elephants and the eponymous lions in their “natural habitats.” I was going to be so cool! I was the teacher’s daughter AND I would get to spend the day with the big kids!
The big day finally came, and while I remember little about seeing the animals, I still vividly remember our lunch after the tour. After an extensive “safari,” our school buses parked and we all poured onto a playground surrounded by picnic tables. It was time to eat!
As is my wont, I was as excited about my sack lunch as I had been about seeing the animals. I had a ham and cheese sandwich on Sunbeam bread slathered with mayonnaise, and a baggie full of Ruffles potato chips. But the piece de resistance would be the dessert that my mom had let me pick all by myself at the Circle K especially for the occasion – a cellophane wrapped roll of beautiful, shiny Dolly Madison little chocolate doughnuts! Oh! The moment I peeled back that plastic would be bliss! The anticipation was terrific.
Now understand I was not a child that dealt well with disappointment or not getting what I wanted. I MAY have occasionally shown my ass in public out of frustration, self-centeredness, and sheer rottenness. But that day when my mom came over to our picnic table, sat down and asked me to give away my lunch, there was something in her face that made me know this wasn’t about me.
“If you’ll let Andre have your lunch, I’ll get you a special treat when we get back home,” she said. “What about my little chocolate doughnuts?” I thought sadly. I didn’t understand. But I agreed because I could tell from Momma’s voice this was something new – something important. So I surrendered my lunch without grumbling.
A little later as we sat together at that picnic table sharing her lunch under the shade of the pine trees, I asked her, “Mommy? Why didn’t Andre bring his own lunch? Did he forget it?”
“No,” she replied gently. “There are some people whose mommies and daddies don’t have enough money to buy food. So sometimes those people don’t have anything to eat if we don’t help them.”
I was dumbstruck. I had never heard of such a thing. People without enough food? People I knew and went to school with? Kids like me? I suddenly really hoped those little chocolate doughnuts were the most excellent thing Andre had ever eaten.
Unfortunately, the world hasn’t changed much for the better in the last 40 years when it comes to poverty. Income inequality in this country is the greatest it’s ever been, the public education system is vastly unequal and children are still going to bed hungry. And worst of all, our desire and effort to understand one another, particularly those different from us, is fading. How can we make the world better if we don’t clearly see the problems? How can we have empathy with no enlightenment? How can we come together if we can’t grasp our shared humanity?
The answer to the problem remains the same as it was in 1975. The same lesson a six-year old was able to understand through a parable of doughnuts. We have to share. We have to help. We have to love.
We’re all on this trip together.