Feats of Imagination

Guest post by Ted Kelsey, author of OLGA

I haven’t been back for a year. Yes, a year. I volunteered distributing food, and it was exactly a year ago at Thanksgiving when I handed out my last turkey.

I stopped for reasons outside of my control. My wife started working on the weekends. I needed to stay home and watch my daughter. I stopped for reasons that, if examined honestly, are more like blessings. Too much work. Too much family. Some of the very items for which I will bend my head over my tofu-rky this season.

Within a few weeks, my routine had changed. I didn’t think about waking up early on Saturdays to repack the day-old bread. I didn’t have to structure my laundry washing around when I would be finished carrying grocery bags. I didn’t have to relate so often to people who came to take. I didn’t have to wonder whether I was giving gracefully.

This cold Thanksgiving morning, I remember how easy it was to stop. Because I didn’t need to go.

But on other mornings, going to the train… on other evenings, walking along the riverfront… I see more familiar faces than before. I nod to young ones at the school bus-stop and older ones behind a cart at the pharmacy. Neighbors I didn’t know before I gave them food.

When I converted from studied atheism to Christianity at the relatively ripe age of thirty-five, I am sure that there was some shrugging from my family, as much as anyone bothers to puzzle over anybody else’s faith. I puzzled myself. Couldn’t I chose an ethos more respectfully liberal and less treacherously sanctimonious? Something more fashionable in scientific studies. Like Buddhism, for example?

I’m afraid that I was just too dense. I was so dense that I had to be told every week that the bread I eat is a person’s flesh in order to understand what it is. I had to imagine the face of sacrifice. I saw my coworkers. I saw my family and fellow church-goers. I had to imagine some of those faces from the pantry that had become familiar.

The irony is that religion doesn’t solve the problem of hunger. It never has. It doesn’t even necessarily make us do more. So what will?

Bookish Ted. At night I read a battered paperback copy of Candide I found on a shelf somewhere (after-all some books are so ubiquitous they can be found for free more often than bread) and I encounter in its pages a lame slave in Surinam who is missing one hand and one food. “It’s the price,” he tells the book’s hero, “the price that Christians in Europe pay for heaps of sugar at every meal.”

I am so typically, totally, and inescapably earth-bound, so near to despair over our powerlessness in the face of suffering. I tell myself that Buddhism changes how we breathe. Yoga changes how we move and breathe. And other faiths, other thoughts, other practices… other feats of imagination… can change how we give and take and how we eat and drink. And as I sit down to write my stories, I also repeat that phrase to myself… feats of imagination… and tell myself imagination helps us see, and transform what we see. Imagination makes us thankful for bread. It can help us taste the sacrifices invisible to our other senses.


Books by Ted Kelsey

OLGA ~ View on Bookshelves | View on Amazon

Published by Guest Blogger

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