Why. This week’s organization

Some of you may not remember the singer/songwriter, Harry Chapin.¬† I do.¬† My whole family listened to his music a lot when I was in high school.¬† One night, I was doing the dishes and listening to a Harry Chapin album.¬† The song playing was a love song that went, “Oh, my Jenny.”¬† Suddenly my brother Jeff came running up the stairs from the family room to say that Harry Chapin had been killed in a car accident.¬† It was a sad moment for a lot of fans.

I mention all of this because this week’s organization is Why. Finding Answers for Hunger and Poverty, which was established in 1975 by Harry Chapin and radio talkshow host¬†Bill Ayres.¬† A quote from their website:

WHY is convinced that solutions to hunger and poverty can be found at the grassroots level. WHY advances long-term solutions to hunger and poverty by supporting community-based organizations that empower individuals and build self-reliance, i.e., offering job training, education and after school programs; increasing access to housing and healthcare; providing microcredit and entrepreneurial opportunities; teaching people to grow their own food; and assisting small farmers. WHY connects these organizations to funders, media and legislators.

In addition to offering emergency assistance, WHY really focuses on building self-reliance and skills, so that people are helped for a lifetime, not just when in crisis.¬† They also sponsor the Harry Chapin Media Awards, which highlight the best writing on hunger and poverty in a variety of genres.¬† Definitely check out their website (link on the “Ballot” page in the sidebar).


I have a few friends and family members (you know who you are, and so does everyone else) for whom control is a major issue.¬† It never has been for me.¬† In fact, I once went¬† to an astrologer (I was about 29 at the time) who said, “You just now figured out that you CAN¬†exert some control over your life — up till now you’ve just assumed your life was happening and your role was to go along for the ride.”¬† Regardless of the accuracy of the rest of¬†my natal chart, this particular comment really struck home.

Over the past week, especially during my time in New¬†Mexico with my family, I struggled more than is typical with a desire¬†to be in control — in one area in particular:¬† food.¬† When you are a guest in other people’s homes, it doesn’t feel right to dictate the food selection or to have a hissy fit if what is served isn’t quite what you wanted.¬† My family was very sensitive to my efforts to lose weight and my concerns about weathering the holidays without too much damage¬†on the scale, and they bent over backwards to meet my needs.¬†¬†But I still found myself confronted with options I wouldn’t have¬†faced at home.¬† Of course, there were temptations to my self-discipline, like my niece Hallie’s “birds nests”.¬† But what I am really talking about here are the meal basics — entrees, sides, etc. — not the holiday goodies that were available in addition to the meals.

In the midst of my frustration over¬†my¬†lack of control, ¬†I¬†thought about the organizations I’ve listed on this blog who send meals to shut-ins or who operate food pantries and/or soup kitchens — and about the many individuals and families who are dependent upon these services for their daily sustenance.¬† And it occurred to me that one of the side-effects of being hungry (from poverty or disaster) ¬†is that you do not get to exert any control over¬†the food you receive, are served, or must eat to survive.¬† I thought it was difficult to go for a week eating what others chose to serve — and it helped me realize what a luxury the control most of us have on a daily basis truly is.¬†

I was thinking this very thought as my parents and I were driving to meet my sister Gwen’s family.¬† One of those Christmas music radio stations was on, and they were playing the Bob Geldof song written for African famine relief — at the end, they repeatedly sing the line “Feed the world”.¬† I’ve been listening and singing along to this song for about 20 years now.¬† But this line struck me anew — and I admit I got a little choked up singing it¬†— feed the world.¬† In comparison to this simple imperative, it seemed silly to worry about¬†whether I could “afford” the calories in the roast beef being served for dinner.¬†

It took me days to relax into the idea that I wasn’t in control of each meal’s menu; to refocus on the things that were important in the moment at hand.¬† Once I was able to do that, the whole food thing was a lot less stressful.¬† Now that I am back home and back in control of the food I’m eating, I can clearly see that I once again wasted energy focusing on the wrong things too much of the time (a lifelong bad¬†habit).¬† Here, I am in control of my food choices, but I am eating alone — I find I’d rather have my mom or my sister¬†selecting the menu if it means I¬†get to¬†share the meal with them.

Like I said before, I have never really had a high need for control.¬† It is more than time, though, to exercise control over my thinking and my tendency to be out of the moment.¬† Sounds like a New Year’s resolution!