“One must either keep silent, or be able to utter a word more valuable than silence.” This quote is attributed to Pythagoras, as far as the facebook platform where I found it. Yet, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states the following on the philosopher: “Pythagoras himself wrote nothing, so our knowledge of Pythagoras’ views is entirely derived from the reports of others.” My only intent here is to dwell on the consequences of keeping silent in some circumstances. I, therefore, take the liberty of opting out on any argument on the unsettled issue around Pythagoras’ work.
Writing from the cultural angle of my home country of choice, I think back only few short days when there was frenzy over what food offerings to prepare for Thanksgiving. While my daughter and I were reaching for essentials and non-essentials alike to put into our grocery cart before the holiday, the thought of hunger for too many in the world came back to me again. The way it had before I became an adult in Turkey. My brother and I were sitting in the front balcony of our flat, enjoying the delicious hot lunch my mother had prepared for us. I don’t remember how old we were. All I know for sure is that we were still going to the elementary school. Our daily morning study period had just ended. My mother wasn’t eating, only looking at us with her beautiful happy smile and, on occasion, down to the side street in front of our apartment building. All of a sudden, her facial expression changed. Then she told us in a hurry to keep eating our meal, that she would be back very soon. A few minutes later, we heard the house door shut. We got up to see what was going on. She wasn’t in any of the rooms, the kitchen or the bathrooms. We walked back onto the balcony, looked down and saw her: we were relieved but still curious. She was holding a pot in her hands and a large spoon or ladle, and on her one arm, a large plastic bag was hanging. She started talking to a woman in rags, with three children – also in rags. Then, she opened the lid of the pot, took out some bowls from the bag, spoons, a loaf of bread and apples. When all she took for those people emptied, she started back. “They needed to eat,” she said to us. Nothing else.
Our flat was on the fourth floor and the balcony’s front section had a rectangular metal plate for privacy. No one could have seen us eating; or doing anything else, for that matter. As for the aroma possibly soaring from our plates, it could not have traveled that far down. But all that mattered to my mom was that “they needed to eat”.
Maybe it is this particular memory as to why I started to think of hungry people during all feast-focused celebrations in my country of birth. And then again, long after I began to live in the States my most adult years, observing and living many Thanksgiving and other holidays. I have never had to feel the pain of hunger, nor have I ever had to watch my child suffer from it at any point in our lives. Still, the urge to feed anyone in need has always accompanied me. The children, foremost. Have I ever stepped out of my own environment to do so? No. Tragically, no. Have I wanted to act out on my urge? Yes. An unconditional yes. This yearning in me is the reason as to why my focus was stuck on two other recent facebook posts: another quote and one poem – two sources by famous authors of different national realms.
The quote I am referring to is claimed to have originated from Charles Bukowski and was posted together with an image (below) in association to his words: “We had decided to send medicine to Africa; however, the instructions on all said ‘take on full stomach’.”
The poem with the same sharp impact on me, once again, is about the adults-to-be, as composed by Aziz Nesin:
I want to weep,
I want to weep to such extent, children
that no tear is left for you to shed
I want to stay hungry
I want to stay hungry to such extent, children
that there is no hunger for you to endure
I want to die,
I want to die to such extent, children
that there is no death left for you.
Also the link where I ran into my lyrical inspiration had an image associated with it and the intended message – as in the Bukowski statement – speaks for itself:
Not only risking but also actually deserving the brand as a hypocrite, I must say one thing out loud for once – breaking my own silence for whatever it is worth: Whether it is for a holiday or a regular day, the amount of food and beverages I buy or consume is excessive. Excessive to the point that many a times I could have walked out of my home, with my arms and hands filled with food I don’t need and taken them to others paining in hunger. Not to have anything edible shipped to a far place, though. For that step toward a larger scale is, to me, something that discourages many, forcing the mind to only note the immensity of such reach-out, and therefore, to abandon any and all desires to help altogether. I rather envision myself on the next feast-oriented occasion doing what my mother has done for that mother and her children, a mere total of four individuals: Be present in person while enabling one hot meal in an actual human-to-human exchange. I imagine the number increasing in affordable steps…
Keeping silent? By all means; that is, when we don’t have anything to say that is worth listening or our time. But not when we need a reminder to ourselves how breaking the silence may help us to stop for a brief moment in our whirl of self-indulgence to pander to those beyond our families, friends and acquaintances who are always well fed in the first place.