The child's face haunted me while I ate. Peering back at me through vacuous, paper eyes, imploring me to care, I shifted uncomfortably in my plush seat in the break room at work while trying to eat my lunch. I forced myself to eat, as I forced myself not to turn the face aside. I picked up the front page of today's paper and read, transfixed by those eyes, by the faces, by the taut dark skin pulled across skeletal frames. Famine in Somalia, again.
The worst famine in over 60 years, the paper stated, but I remember a horrible famine when I was a child. Images of children, neighbors of Somalia, in Ethiopia. Starvation looks the same, regardless of location. But surely, in the desert, it's even more ferocious. More urgent.
And then, I remember a documentary of a famous war photographer in one of my grad school courses. He compassionately, courageously, sensitively, captured starvation among people in the Horn of Africa. I went home late that night after class and stayed up crying, unable to erase those faces and living skeletons from my memory.
What to say when it's so uncomfortable to speak it, to even hear it? What to say when the guilt eats us as the food slips down into our well-fed stomachs? What to say when the faces are so far away, in a foreign place, so real and unreal at the same time? What to say when hands feel tied, though wallets perhaps can open and money can flow, as inadequate as that may seem?
Guilt will feed no one. But I can give. And I can listen to the stories and not turn my eyes away from the faces. And I can pray. And I can thank God profusely for every morsel of food that nourishes my body.