Editor’s note: As part of FMS’ Lenten blog series, Harrison Hanvey, guest blogger and Assistant Campus Minister for Community Service at the Catholic University of America, reflects on an Ash Wednesday experience that helped him consider the distinction between service and solidarity–all while eating spicy chicken sandwich.
The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, happened to fall on February 14th this year. That’s really just bad luck. Nothing like a healthy dose of fasting and repentance to put you in a romantic mood. Throw in a nice ashy smudge on your forehead, and before you know it you will be having a lovely evening with your significant other. Lucky enough for me, though, I’m single. So a streak of ashes and an empty stomach wasn’t going to have much of an affect on my unromantic Valentine’s Day evening.
After I got off work on that Wednesday, I decided to run by the grocery store to get something for dinner. I pulled up, locked my bike to the bike rack, and was about to walk through the front door, when I saw a woman over to the side asking for change. I’d seen her before, so I walked up and asked her what her name was.
“Dell,” she said.
“That’s funny, you know my mom’s name is Adell. Almost the same as yours,” I replied.
“Adell, huh, I like that name… That’s a rich sounding name.”
I chuckled, “Yeah, she does alright.”
“What about you, what’s your name,” she asked me.
“Harrison,” I said.
“I like that name too… You know that’s also a rich sounding name.”
We chatted for a bit, then I asked her if she’d like to walk across the street and let me buy her some Wendy’s for dinner. She agreed, and so we went over. I got a spicy chicken sandwich, and she just ordered a frosty. We sat down, chatted for half an hour or so, then eventually got up and went on our way.
Now in the traditional view of charity, I would be seen as the giver, and she as the receiver. I’m the well-to-do guy who took the woman asking for spare change out for a bite to each. You would say I did a good deed. But I think if we reexamine our understanding of charity, and look at the situation more holistically, try to “see more clearly,” if you will, then we will discover that this was much more about community than service
We normally view service in a self-sacrificing sort of way. That we are sacrificing our time, wealth, and effort to bring good to someone or something else. But I believe that this is an incomplete way to view these types of interactions. The problem is that this viewpoint inherently creates an inequality between the giver and the receiver. It puts one person on a pedestal, the other on the bottom. One person has so much to give, and the other is only capable of being given to.
That Wednesday night at Wendy’s was quite enjoyable for me. Dell is hilarious. We joked the whole time about how both of us were finally able to get a date on Valentine’s Day. We finally didn’t have to spend our Valentine’s Day alone. It certainly wasn’t too romantic, as she is about twice my age, but we did have a good time together. She asked me what I like in a girl, what my type is, and promised that she’d be on the lookout for a good one for me. She prides herself in being a matchmaker. By the next time I saw her in front of the grocery store, she said, she’d have a special someone lined up for me. We laughed a lot; she is a great conversationalist, she told a lot of good stories, and we had a nice time together. Much better of a time than I would have had if I had just bought my dinner in the store and headed home.
So was going out to dinner with Dell an act of service? Sure, in a way. But I think it was more accurately an act of community and solidarity. Two people doing something together that is ultimately beneficial for both of them. It was more an attempt at happiness, something that would bring us both joy, bring us both something to eat, and create a little more harmony in the world. That’s the type of world I would prefer to live in anyways: One where people are willing to help a brother out when they need it. Because sooner or later that brother just might be me. And quite often it is.
Eduardo Galeano says it well: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”
Maybe, in this final week of Lent, we could spend less time praying to be servants, and more time praying to see clearly. I believe that will ultimately bring us more happiness. More harmony in our neighborhoods, and more peace in our own hearts. And hopefully I’ll run into Dell again soon. I could go for another spicy chicken sandwich.
Reflection question: When have you experienced solidarity in unexpected places?