Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

1 Comment

Roots of hunger, role of justice

munichgirl_card_frontI have read a lot about about hunger — and destruction — on the road to my novel The Munich Girl.

There was a lot of hunger, in a lot of places, before, during, and after the second World War. I have an abundance of first-person accounts from people in my own family who have never forgotten what it feels like.

Many of them paid a big price for it with their health, or lived in fear afterward with cupboards they can never empty before the contents spoil. From my earliest days, I listened to stories of what it feels like — what you feel like — when you don’t have enough to eat.


Photo: David Campbell

I wonder what those who sought to remake the world with justice after the war would think of where we find ourselves as a world today? There is still hunger. There is unbearable savagery.

There is a collective consciousness that remains unconscious of the reality, precious value, and imperative of soulhood.

In fairness, it’s hard to remake a world in “justice” in the midst of unimaginable destruction. If you only operate out of what you think you know about justice, what you think history and experience have shown it to be, the possibilities in such imitation are, inevitably, quite limiting.

If you don’t know what the very purpose of justice is, it’s like traveling without a map, or even a polar star.

The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men.

~ Bahá’u’lláh


Photo: David Campbell

Unambiguous, this declaration is. And doubtless, very difficult to conceptualize — and apply — if you act only from what you believe you know about human beings, and potential, based on what you believe you know about human history and experience.

As I continue to study the war that launched our world into entirely unimagined directions, many of which have congealed in blighted possibility, like plants insufficiently watered, I think I’m discovering what the root of all hunger really is. There is much we have not yet mined, nor learned, from “history.” History itself often remains a narrow category deliberately designed to keep certain things in, and certain things out — essentially what has always led to violence of every kind.


Photo: Diane Kirkup

But there is also a legacy that always outlasts that — a brilliant jewel of indestructible power whose facets reflect those qualities of justice and unity that Bahá’u’lláh has pointed to. I believe that it is the only reason there is any possibility of either survival or advancement, just as I believe that humanity continues, if blindly, to let itself be convinced to treasure trash, while overlooking the one true treasure it has.

John O’Donohue has recognized what it is, and why it triumphs, and why we suffer so deeply — every kind of hunger we know — when we betray ourselves by depriving ourselves of it:


Photo: Timothy Jette

Our time is hungry in spirit. In some unnoticed way we have managed to inflict severe surgery on ourselves. We have separated soul from experience, become utterly taken up with the outside world and allowed the interior life to shrink.

Like a stream disappears underground, there remains on the surface only the slightest trickle. When we devote no time to the inner life, we lose the habit of soul. We become accustomed to keeping things at surface level.

The deeper questions about who we are and what we are here for visit us less and less. If we allow time for soul, we will come to sense its dark and luminous depth.

If we fail to acquaint ourselves with soul, we will remain strangers in our own lives.  

~ John O’Donohue


“In times of war and deprivation …”

As scenes, and themes, of hunger envelop my current novel-in-progress, this writer’s Guest Post is a glimpse of history – and hunger – from the branches of our own family tree: th

The measure of a moral compass

By Tracey Edgerly Meloni

Nana’s last ration book, bilious green and brittle, is pasted to the inside cover of her journal. Rationing in the UK continued until 1954 – July 4 – and defined three generations of my family, for better or for worse. Now, it seems the hand of “democratic deprivation” touches – teaches? – six-year-old me.

Sample_UK_Childs_Ration_Book_WW2Holding it, feeling it, I am engulfed in memories that are not mine, but are as deeply embedded as if they were. All my short life I have heard about the evacuees from London and Birmingham that filled The Chantry, the Victorian Gothic-horror house where eventually I was born in England’s Lake District. Retold stories of GranNana “tsking” over the poor quality of coal available to heat the house while she supervised the hanging of “ill-fitting” blackout drapes, lamenting in her ladylike way the conversion of nearby Shap Wells resort into a POW camp for upper echelon German officers. I recall Nana joining the chorus: “We managed on one egg a week while the best provisions sailed past bound for ‘Those Germans’.”

My mother took up shooting rabbits for meat – “I’m not eating another revolting mouthful of bloody whale, and you’ll not convince me SPAM is meant to be eaten by humans. I’d rather wait for horsemeat.” 1601418_894304997248646_7548890421444550389_n

The “Land girls” made sure they – I can’t help but think “we” – had plenty of vegetables and developed recipes to make them palatable in the absence of butter and onions. Most treasured, and missed, were bacon, butter, cream and whole milk. Till the day they died, my forebear-women would not tolerate margarine, powdered milk or the dreaded peanut butter (used as a less-than-successful shortening in wartime baked goods).

Sharing the shortages was a red badge of courage. Rationing was good for all.


A Well Groomed and Tidy Land 86

Photo: Kathy Gilman

All the women spoke gleefully of the alligator shoes, a size too small, my mother found for 100 pounds (!!) on the black market. No one chastised Mr. Dixon-Hunter for siphoning petrol from unwitting hotel visitors. The tale of Rodney, the ill-gotten pig, hidden and slaughtered for a village Guy Fawkes Day feast, is still cheerfully ballyhooed.

Uncle Willie, my Godfather, who fought in a ghastly conflict no one mentions, sees my untutored ethical struggle. He smells of Pear’s soap and Players cigarettes and ginger. I love him very much.

tracey_edgerly_meloni“In time of war and deprivation,” he says earnestly, looking into my eyes, “our moral compasses may venture off true north.”

Years will pass before I grasp his meaning, but the words remained as indelibly etched as the brittle feel of the ration book.