(This article first appeared in the October issue of the Anglican Journal.)
Can you live on bread alone? My friend Rosie loved bread. Especially Wonder Bread. If Rosie had her way, she’d have eaten Wonder Bread, and only Wonder Bread, every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well, she liked other bread-like products, too: French toast made out of Wonder Bread, her favourite goldfish crackers and all forms of pasta. One year for her birthday, a good friend of hers made a birthday card out of dried, curly pasta stuck on construction paper, spelling out “Happy Birthday, Rose.” To accompany the gift itself: an elegantly wrapped loaf of Wonder Bread.
Rosie was a force to be reckoned with: a diminutive woman in her early 40s, with a wiry frame about four feet tall. Rosie had lived the first 20 years of her life in an institution for children with disabilities. There is much that we don’t know about those hidden years, but I imagine that they were a time of deep hardship and desolation.
When Rosie was welcomed to the L’Arche community at the age of 22, she was so tiny that she didn’t even need a wheelchair. She just sat in an umbrella stroller. She didn’t walk or talk. She showed little interest in food. She shrank away from human touch.
But, little by little, she emerged from her shell. She began to spend more time with others. She discovered foods that she liked to eat. She discovered water and loved to swim. She grew stronger and taller. At the age of 24, she began to walk for the first time.
During the second half of her life, Rosie fed the rest of us with her embrace of life, her sense of humour and her iron will. Through the simple daily routines of our life together-sitting at table, soaking in a bath, getting ready for bed-we learned to stand more confidently, feel more honestly and try more earnestly.
In the last months of her life, Rosie was very sick. She had surgery, and became very thin and weak. It was clear that if she was going to get better, she needed to start eating again. The process was very slow and frustrating. At first she took tiny sips of thick liquids, then tiny bites of soft food, like applesauce. Then she moved on to solid food: a bit of pasta chopped up. And, finally, after days and weeks of effort, bread. I’ve never been so excited to see someone eat a piece of bread! Watching Rosie eat a piece of bread was like watching Rosie come back to life.
When Rosie came home from the hospital, the race was on to help her regain her strength. And, unfortunately for Rosie, Wonder Bread can’t actually meet all the dietary needs of the human body. So we put our heads together to consider all the nutritious things she needed and turn them into a form that she would like to eat. That is, into the form of bread. For example, Rosie wouldn’t eat a bowl of oat bran hot cereal, but she would eat muffins with oat bran and peanut butter baked in…you get the idea. You wouldn’t believe how many things can go into bread: vegetables, fruit, protein powder, nuts, you name it.
Rosie loved bread. And when I think of her love for life, the incredible life force that kept her going through those last precious months, I think of Rosie reaching for a piece of bread. Rosie’s love for Wonder Bread reminds us that to be human is to be hungry. And that to grow and to thrive, we need to be fed with both wonder and bread.
When Jesus says that he is the bread of life, I believe that this is what he meant: that he was sent by God to satisfy our hunger for life and for love. Each time we share in the eucharist, we open our hearts to the one whom God has sent. Not just Jesus, but Rosie, and each one of us-sent by God to be bread to each other, in whatever form we can receive. This Thanksgiving, may we receive this gift in a spirit of wonder.
THE REV. LISKA STEFKO is assistant curate at The Redeemer Anglican Church, diocese of Toronto.