This beautiful photo was taken by a friend, Patti Hardee Donnelly. Patti is a Middle School Language Arts Teacher at the same school I retired from. Each grade level does regular community service, and the activities are varied. Last month, Patti took her Middle School Advisory to spend an afternoon of gleaning sweet potato fields. As they were working through the fields, Patti took this photograph. She very kindly let me ‘borrow’ it for this haiga.
The concept of gleaning is an ancient one. So long as people have planted fields of crops, others have followed in their wake to glean whatever food might be left behind. It doesn’t matter if the vegetables are picture perfect, so much as they provide food for those who are without. Taking a group of middle class students who are in no danger of starving is a very purposeful way of both doing community service and providing a life lesson to the students. The gleaned sweet potatoes do end up on dinner tables of people who are happy to have healthy, fresh produce. The students who do the gleaning, perhaps for the first and last time of their lives, surely learn a lot about the facts of poverty and hunger. They learn a lesson in simple compassion. How often do most of us come face to face with the pain of hunger? The answer for the majority of Americans is ‘rarely.’
Here in the United States, we have just celebrated Thanksgiving, a time in which we feast and share our meal with those we love. Soon our thoughts will move on to Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, winter solstice, New Year’s and a whole period of seasonal gift giving, sharing food and good spirit. Let’s stop for just a minute and think about all we are fortunate to have–we who go to bed in a comfortable place after having had adequate meals. For December, I’m going to spend some time thinking about the concept of gleaning, both the physical and metaphorical. Having borrowed Patti’s beautiful photo and ‘gleaned’ it for my haiga, I hope I can find other ways to give back to the world.
Thank you, Patti Hardee Donnelly, for allowing me to use this picture, but thank you also for teaching your students about the importance of compassion and service to others. I will always celebrate and salute teachers like you who make a real difference in so many lives.
Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)
Gleaners, also called, The Gleaners
Oil on canvas
H. 83.5; W. 110 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Jean Schormans