Long time no talk. Oh grad school and all of that. I have been working on a few papers and it has unfortunately taken up most of my time; however, I sneaked away to write this post!
I have been playing video games online with friends for quite some time. It is a brilliant way to keep in touch and I must admit that I truly enjoy playing some of those crazy games with my friends. I was gaming not too long ago with a friend and we were talking about him getting a Playstation 4, which I have, so that we could play some newer games. I told him I would give him some money to buy it and he said it was too much.
“You gave me oatmeal,” I exclaimed.
“It was just oatmeal not money,” he replied.
We continued to play and I basically said ‘deal with it’. The game ended, we said our goodbye’s and signed off. My brain was swimming with my reaction to him saying it was just oatmeal. I believe I had mentioned it before, but I was dead broke. There were times when honey on a butter knife was the extent of lunch and ramen noodles were a regular meal. All three meals. I was having blinding migraines from hunger for a while. Post-college and without a decent job as I waited for grad school to start, I could not afford the luxury of food (for more on this, read The Best Of All Possible Worlds).
My friend was employed but only in marginally a better place financially. He saw what I was going through and he gave me all of his oatmeal. I cannot tell you how amazing that felt. I have never been that happy in my life. It was such a humbling experience to know that at any moment you could run out of food. To know that every dime you had was already spent. Some ethereal clock that ticked down until it reached zero and everything you had was gone. I ate that oatmeal like it was four-course four star meal. Strawberries and Cream, Apple Cinnamon, Dates and Raisins, and Vanilla Swirl were among the favorites of flavors. Sometimes I would only eat a bowl of beans but I knew that I had a sweet treat for dinner as well. I had oatmeal.
There is something that truly clarifies life’s meaning when you are that poor. I know there are individuals who have been worse off. There are people starving all over the world and yet, when it comes to you, you look at yourself. The world becomes so much smaller. So much simpler than it was. It is about finding your next meal and being creative. A sleeve of crackers with butter on top becomes lunch and dinner. Water no longer quenches thirst but satiates hunger for a brief amount of time. The only worry is if you are able to make it until the next time you eat.
My mother helped as much as she could but she was no better off. Part time work was scarce and temp work was mainly for industrial individuals. I only tell you this because I think it is important for myself to reflect. I have been doing so since he said it was “just oatmeal.” Now, from a place of comfort financially I look back and I must say…i miss it. Do not get me wrong, it was terrible but there was a primal simplicity to it; something deep in that chaos that gave me strength. I was able to see something in myself then that I had never seen. When you know where the bottom is, when you find your personal limit, it changes you. You are able to see how far you had fallen and recognize the true beauty of life. No more wanting. It is about being content. Then, when you have a meal or you open the fridge on those hard days and see food or look at your gas tank and see half a tank of gas, life is beautiful.
Now, I am in an okay place financially but I never stray too far from the me that existed before September. My circumstances changed but I did not. I do not regret that it happened because I was able to see myself break; literally and metaphorically. My body was pushed to limits and my mind as well. You realize that just because something breaks does not mean you are not able to mend it. I always said that my body would break before my spirit but they both eventually succumbed. When they were mended, they came back stronger.
I look at all of this around me and I am thankful. My mother is healthier, I am getting healthier, I have so much and yet I am bored. My life is on pause. I am working towards a goal but when you know your primal self, that id that speaks “food, water, sleep”, it becomes so enlightening that you miss it. The kindness of people just as down on their luck as you was beautiful. I have met individuals that are the smartest scholars I have ever met and make 100k+ but 10 of them are not worth one of the beautiful, hard-working people I met. That showed me kindness. That took a chance on helping me and kept me encouraged. That gave me oatmeal or gave me words of wisdom. These things are lessons I learned and it shaped my ideologies on what it means to live in this world and to being a human being. You realize how important money is and how loathsome is that truth.
You learn about this world.
You learn about yourself.
I would have never understood any of this; not to this degree as we were not very well off when I was younger.
I remember these things because of a friends kindness.
I remember it whenever I see a smiling Quaker on a cylindrical box.
The memory is what brings me back to the importance of oatmeal.