Rhonda Cagle

The Stories We Tell

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 1:33 am

It’s strange how the lives of people I’ve never met become part of who I am. Like ghosts of past or parallel lives, they haunt my existence, piquing my curiosity about matters of ethics, morality, faith, and beauty. Sometimes they are saints who come alive through their writings; others are artists, capturing for my eyes and soul the beauty illuminated and translated through their own. Frequently, these ghosts both frustrate and inspire me, causing me to stretch to become a better version of the person I am at the moment.

For several weeks now, I’ve been thinking about one of these people – a little girl I know through Dennis. He met her in the “cafegymatorium” at one of the schools he led. The lunch lady called Dennis and asked him to come and talk to a kid who was acting “funny.” Dennis went in and saw a little girl quietly going from table to table, picking through the food left behind by the other children. “Honey, what are you doing?” Dennis asked her. Shyly, the little girl explained to Dennis that she and her brothers and sisters didn’t have enough to eat at home. She was collecting leftovers to try and find enough food to feed them some sort of dinner.

When Dennis came home from work that night, he told me this little girl’s story. He spoke of her big eyes. He was incredulous and angry that the hunger in this little girl’s stomach was eclipsing the promise of her young life. As he spoke of her, he began to weep, tears running down his cheeks. He held my hand and asked, “How is she supposed to do well in school when she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from? How can she learn when she’s hungry?”

Dennis could not forget this young child, and it was no surprise that it was her story he told when our friends, Lisa and Vince, had us over for dinner and asked how things were going at his schools. They listened quietly – as Dennis liked to say, they listened with their hearts. And that night, the little girl’s story became part of their own.

It wasn’t long after that dinner that Dennis and I learned he was fighting cancer – and three weeks later he was gone. But a few days before he died, Lisa and Vince sent Dennis an email telling him that because he had cared enough to tell her story, the little girl – and many more like her – would no longer be hungry. They had been inspired to found Kitchen on the Street, an all-volunteer agency that partners with schools to provide weekend/evening meals to children who would otherwise go hungry. Dennis cried when he learned that dozens of children were being fed each week. Today, that number has grown to more than 250 children every week being fed through Kitchen on the Street.

I never met this little girl. And for months after Dennis died, I was too overwhelmed with grief and exhaustion to care much about the efforts of the agency inspired by her story. But, like my husband, I couldn’t forget her. Still can’t. Her life… her plight… her story continues to haunt me. And now, she has become a part of who I am. This little girl, with her big eyes and heavy heart, both pleads with and demands for me to continue helping – not so much for her anymore, but for the thousands of children like her who go to bed every night with the pain of hunger gnawing in their stomachs and hearts.

This Thursday night, I’ll have the opportunity to share her story with hundreds of people who will be gathering for a jazz concert benefiting Kitchen on the Street. Hopefully through my words, they’ll see her big eyes… feel her hunger… and find her story becoming part of their own.

If you live in the Phoenix area, I invite you to join me at “Jazz Under the Stars,” a benefit concert for Kitchen on the Street. To learn more about KOS and the concert, please visit their website, http://www.KitchenOnTheStreet.org.

Originally written October 13, 2009

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