At times, instructors bring food to their last class. There is something about sharing a meal together, and I find the idea very suggestive: after a journey of learning, people share a peaceful meal. I never do this, except for one class, in which hunger sits at the center of our discussions.
We read about a Jewish boy, Eli, who, having nothing to eat, gathers the crumbs of bread left by birds at the window of a house in one ghetto during WWII. The boy is taken to the gas chambers, under the pretext of building a kindergarten.
We read about Fr. Calciu, who, being imprisoned during communism, confesses hating a suffering cellmate because he, Fr. Calciu, had promised to give him his piece of bread until he would mend. We read of other Romanians who were thrown in prisons because they were considered enemies of the communist regime. After being famished for days, one individual in a cell with five or six people received a piece of bread, so that the temptation to be a wolf and give to others a smaller piece would eat at the human dignity of that individual. Even worse, as in the prison of Pitesti, they were forced to eat their own feces.
There is also another hunger: the hunger for human dignity, for being still perceived as a human being. That hunger comes with a temptation: the one of thinking that those who eat at your flesh as wolves are no longer able to recover their own humanity. To see them as essentially predators.
Strange thing: that hunger for human dignity seems to be quenched when one offers oneself as nourishment for another, even in spite of the other’s savage attack. “At the beginning, you give from what you have; after a while, you give from what you are” (Fr. Arsenie Boca).
I bake bread for that class on our last day. And, as someone once said, the bread is broken and divided among us, and then becomes one again in our communion. Communion with Eli, with Fr. George Calciu, a communion that is ready to accept even the wolves, because it does not refuse anyone. I am the only one who can bring refusal with me, in the manner of my approach: as wolf or as shepherd.