Friday, March 8, 2013

A Deep and Abiding Hunger

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Some of the most amazing human beings whom I've had the privilege of knowing seem to share a common trait. They're hungry. Not chicken and dumplings hungry, but the kind of hungry that spurs people to extend themselves in ways their "fat and happy" peers wouldn't dream of. They work harder, they accomplish more, or they nurture their relationships as if it's the only garden that matters.

Maybe you've noticed these people in your own life? The employee who wouldn't miss a day of work if his left arm had been sawed off. The friend who would walk across broken glass to bring a handful of daisies to your door. The wife who will keep her marriage in tact or die trying. Of course we're all hungry for something, but the people I'm referring to wear their need as plainly as if they were clutching a Will Work for Food sign and their efforts to appease the gnawing beast are relentless.

I wonder where it comes from, if the undernourishment stems from a childhood where their spirit and confidence weren't adequately fed? The hunger in others seems to come from some unnamed element of their being; they were born with an unflagging need that can neither be measured or filled, and as adults they haven't developed the tools or spiritual core that can reign them in and calm them down.

It is in me to both admire and resent this kind of person. There are plenty of us sitting on the couch thinking, Man, I should really finish painting that wall. And so to see our neighbor painting her own wall as if she's being paid handsomely to do so is annoying. Then later she finishes the race you dropped out of, receives the promotion you aspired for, and meanwhile she is admired and liked at every turn, all because of the many, many instances she braved the field of broken glass, daisies in hand.

The longer I've known these individuals, the more my petty jealousies fade simply because I've begun to read the subtext of their accomplishments.

This is the kind of success that matters most to me

These might be the only people in my life who will make me feel valued

I've put all of my potential into this one cup

This might be the only way I can look myself in the mirror and feel alright

And so I try to be kind to those whose hunger is greatest and lasts longest. What should count most is their effort to translate their need into something positive. They could remain holed up on the couch. They could allow the holes within to become inflamed and angry. But instead they move through life trying harder and harder each year and it's the trying that I like. It's the trying that urges me to pull these people in and say You must be hungry. Here, have a sandwich.


  1. Let me offer my full-throated objection. This is a rationalization for living a life of complacency and indolence. Your commentary seems to suggest that people with more hunger, drive and tenacity are emotionally imbalanced. Not so. I would posit that the ‘undernourished’ and ‘underdeveloped’ among us are the ones who failed to fully make the connection between effort and reward. Our lives are short; we are not here to sit idle. We are here to continually develop, grow and gather war wounds. We are here to face adversity and overcome it a stronger person. That is the nature of life. Those of us who are driven understand this and embrace it. As we voluntarily expand our capacity for life’s challenges, we expand our capacity for sympathy, love, and service.

    You say hungry people are never filled? What evidence do you have? I say they are fulfilled again and again by each new accomplishment. What is more satisfying than overcoming an obstacle or after great effort seeing a job well done?

    We don’t need your pity, our mothers taught us well. Enjoy being fat and happy sitting on your couch… We’ll keep striving for greatness.

    1. I purposefully qualified my comments in the first line by saying, "Some of the most amazing human beings whom I've had the privilege of knowing..."

      The operative word is "some."

      Of course I don't believe ALL successful, driven people are emotionally imbalanced and I'm sorry you interpreted my writing that way. I was referring to a very small, specific demographic and I should have been more clear about that. The individuals I had in mind in writing this post are people I know extremely well. I know their background. I know their struggles. We have discussed this idea of what it means to feel constantly "hungry." So, my comments weren't intended as a vague, impersonal observation from a complacent and indolent perch on the couch. In the future I will try to do a better job of representing the specific demographic I am discussing so that my work won't "seem to suggest" a blanket-sweep generalization. That wasn't my objective.

      I appreciate what you wrote above about "our lives are short..." I think my personal life, my writing, and my values are generally in agreement with your point of view. As I wrote in the "About Me" section of my blog: "My posts usually lean toward the general worldview that we are all capable of feeling better, doing better, eating yummier, trying harder, living fuller, and loving longer."

      Anyways, thank you for the lively feedback. It keeps it real.


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