Sometimes our biggest hungers aren't for food

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By Nancy Kennedy

Last November someone wrote me a letter — no return address, no signature. I’ve been holding on to it all year, reading it every so often.

It’s a heartbreaking letter and I hadn’t known how to respond to it. I’m not sure I do now, but I feel compelled to tell this woman’s story. Maybe by sharing it the letter writer will find some peace or happiness or whatever it is that she needs most.

She wrote in response to a story I had written about the problem with hunger in our community. She wrote to say that she was hungry. She said she recalled with great fondness how, as a child, she loved to watch her mom at Thanksgiving, cooking and baking in the kitchen.

“We had so much love in our home then,” she wrote. “Then in 1958 I was married.”

Normally, getting married means being with someone you love and who loves you back, but apparently this didn’t happen for this woman.

She said she was a good cook, but her husband never once told her. He never told her she was pretty.

They lived near her family somewhere up North, then after 40 years came to Florida to retire. It broke the woman’s heart to leave her elderly mother, but she left to please her husband. Her mother, also broken hearted, died a year later.

“My husband didn’t go to the funeral with me,” she wrote. “I was hungry for him to go.”

When she returned from burying her mother, her husband had moved out. He stopped by a few days later to say he wanted a divorce. Later she discovered her husband had cleaned out their bank account and left her with nothing.

“I was so hungry for my kids,” she said of that time, “but they didn’t come. They didn’t call.”

She said she cried and felt that no one cared. “So I turned to God,” she wrote. “I had always believed, but it’s different now.”

Someone once said that you’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you have. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to that place, but I suspect I may at some point. My husband probably won’t ever leave me, but my health might. A hurricane or tornado might blow my house away or I could lose my job.

The woman went on to say that she was lonely and wanted a friend, someone like herself, “fat, old, sick and tired.” She said she hadn’t found one, but she had a small pension, lived in a small mobile home, had a little bit of food — and had God.

“There are others worse off than me,” she wrote.

She told me that there are many ways to be hungry, not just hungry for food. She was hungry and had been for most of her adult life. All she had ever wanted was for her husband to tell her she was pretty, to tell her she was a good cook, to tell her that he loved her.

She was hungry for companionship, for friendship, for family. She was hungry for food, too, but she couldn’t ask for a handout. “I don’t know if I’m too proud or ashamed,” she wrote.

She said that I was lucky to have the life I have and she hoped that when I was at my Thanksgiving table I would be a little extra thankful.

I don’t really know how to reply to a letter like that. A letter, especially one that’s not signed, is easy to disregard. I could have thrown it away and forgotten about it, but I purposely chose to keep it and to reread it throughout the year, although I don’t know why.

Just like I don’t know why some people are hungry and some people aren’t, although I suspect everyone hungers in one way or another.

Some hungers we can fill for one another. Some only God can fill.

I hope this Thanksgiving was different for the woman who wrote this letter last year. Maybe she found a friend. Maybe one of her kids sent her a plane ticket to visit up North or is planning to come here to Florida.

No one should be hungry. Dear God, please fill the hunger in this woman’s soul.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached via e-mail at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.