After our group session, there was a workshop in the main building on the Holy Trinity so rich with connect-the-dots scripture references that all I can say is: you had to be there. My aunt and I then raced from there to the tent to prepare for dinner. After offering to help set up and serve the first day, this had become our assignment for the week (no cleaning toilets, yay!). The little van that drove the food trays from the main kitchen up to Tent F arrived in a cloud of dust. We unloaded the crates of bread and the large foil-covered tins of the meal. Peeling back one of the trays I saw we were having chicken McNuggets. “How many per person?” I asked.
“One?” I repeated, wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to have none at all.
I was in charge of handing out the trays and bowls. I watched as my aunt and two others scooped out the carrots and peas and potatoes and then the solitary nugget. Most looked up incredulously, waited to be told, “Just one tonite.” There was a very round, garrulous man who was always first in line for seconds; I worried that he might be undone by the rations. “No, just one,” my aunt told him as his shoulders drooped and he reached for more bread.
He was the only obese person I saw during our entire week at Taize. In fact, it was startling to see how much trimmer and healthier most of the European and Asian visitors were; we have gotten so used to having so many obese citizens in America I don’t think we have fully understood how much our human landscape has changed. The week before I left for Taize, I saw a billboard announcing a 50-piece McNugget package for only $9.99. I thought about the struggling families who would make a dinner of it, then realized— no, this would likely become the new American afterschool snack.
When everyone had been served, Hesta and Anna— our permanent leaders— came around to serve us. Atop my scoop of carrots and peas and potatoes, Hesta gave me not one but two nuggets. An hour before I would have thought that was a delightful treat —a little bonus for our food service— but after 24 hours in Taize, I had come to feel uncomfortable with the idea of any special treatment. Why should I get an extra one, when everyone else had to make do. I thought of a moment in church that day when my aunt had sat down on a kneeler that had a scarf around the base. A woman arrived late and tapped her on shoulder: that one’s mine. It’s reserved. She had tried to find my aunt another one, but that wasn’t the point, at least not to me. There was a basic wrongness about holding a prime spot — or taking any action that placed one at an advantage over another— in this place of trust and reconciliation. If we are to began to bridge the gaps between us, we must be willing to meet on a level playing field.
I’d love to report that I’d put the nugget back, but I did not. What would have been the point? Everyone had been fed and there were still a few more for the few who needed seconds. Frankly, without the dipping sauces, they were almost inedible. Funny, how so many adults had felt deprived about something so wretched tasting. Sometimes I think we’ve just grown used to wanting more of everything, maybe most especially what we are told we can’t have.