Harry Chapin spoke eloquently about the wonderful gift of Thanksgiving food drives in our nation’s schools right up until his untimely death in 1981, and he had the courage to ask what the recipients of these traditional dinners would be eating the following week. The 47-second audio clip below can also be found on his Gold Medal Collection. Harry put his money where his mouth was–performing over 200 shows a year, and donating half his earnings to World Hunger Year, which he co-founded with Bill Ayres in 1975.
As another Thanksgiving approaches and the northeastern U.S. continues its recovery from Hurricane Sandy, Harry’s nice job, now what about next week? perspective still packs a punch.
While others have made their reluctant, often weakened ways to the northeastern U.S., most hurricanes in recent memory have devastated our neighbors in the Caribbean, Florida, north to the Carolinas, and west along the Gulf coast. We in the northeast have a concern with seasonal blizzards and ice storms, which, while occasionally deadly, rarely matched the hurricanes’ destructive power.
One of the interesting claims that Americans, and most other tribes and nations on the planet, make is that when disaster arrives, we are quick to unite, respond, recover, rebuild (and even strike back and exact revenge when we believe humans, rather than nature, are responsible for our losses). More often than not, we, and others, make this claim as though it is unique to our particular family, community, city, state, or country.
What we fail, for the most part universally, to learn it seems, is that whether its a hurricane, fire, tornado, earthquake, tsunami, flood, drought, famine, lone gunman, terrorist cell, act of war, or violent crime, our inevitably ephemeral coming together–the invaluable food drives to which the late singer-song-and-storywriter alluded–to help each other is always available, not just when tragedy, disaster or a holiday strikes.
Ultimately, if we’re paying attention in the 21st century, we know there is no real security for our lives, property and possessions, secure and insure them though we may try. We can and do innovate, build, improve, recover, rebuild, cure, heal and innovate again, but when the planet shifts, the seas rise, the wind blows, and the fires rage, the question is not whether we will lose, but how much, where, how and who this time around.
One of the great gifts that space travel has given us is the view of our little planet from afar, with its vast oceans, discrete weather patterns, and perfect, predictable, rotation and revolution. The planet, and the universe at large, are perfect, emerging as they do (and each of us does) from that same moment, whether you refer to it as the Big Bang, Creation, both or neither. The point is that we’re (it’s) all related—as cosmologist Brian Swimme tell us, “You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.” Cast the first stone if you originated elsewhere.
As those in the path of October’s Hurricane Sandy continue to process the extent of their respective losses, so too do many who were in the path of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the tornado that leveled Joplin, Missouri, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and countless other more-or-less media-covered, but no less devastating losses on the planet.
This is far from a new idea, but it warrants consideration. Why not keep those Thanksgiving food drives going year round, and behave as though all the creatures with whom we come in contact, even if they seem to be having a better day than we are (and especially if they’re not), would like to be treated with love, generosity and respect. The key is to go first. Don’t wait, and don’t worry about reciprocity. See what happens.
I sure do miss you, Harry.
For folks too young to have heard him on the radio or in concert, here’s a link to Bruce Springsteen’s honoring him and singing Harry’s “Remember When the Music” at the live tribute concert after his death: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9dbZDyRNs4