Of course anyone with a modicum of junk food knowledge understands that Snickers is the best candy bar. Of that there can be no argument. And when one’s day has been so busy at work that any chance of a proper lunch break is thrown out the window, the vending machine in the next building becomes a kind of promised land, one that flows not with milk and honey, but chocolate and nougat.
Getting there from here, which is a rather modern-looking building on the northern end of a college campus, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Because as I said, I was busy. And more than that, I was hungry. I’d been up against it since seven o’clock, and my watch told me that it was a little after two-thirty. My head hurt. My skin felt as though it were beginning to crawl and feed upon itself. My stomach was somersaulting. My insides sounded like a raving pack of hyenas.
I needed a Snickers bar. Bad. In fact, it was quickly becoming apparent that I needed a Snickers bar or I was going to kill someone.
Thankfully, the hectic nature of my day relaxed enough to offer me just enough time to walk to the next building, get what amounted to my breakfast, and get back. I managed to scrounge up just enough change for the machine, not a penny more. I threw on my coat and hat and trudged through a twenty-degree wind chill that seemingly wanted nothing more than to turn me right back around to where I came from. By the time I neared the next building I was literally punching at the breeze in an attempt to fend it off.
I was HUNGRY, people.
The vending machine was on the third story of a building constructed just after the Civil War. No elevators. By the time I reached the third floor landing, I felt as though I’d just summited Everest.
And after all of that, all that work and all that hunger, I fished my seventy-five cents into the slot, chose C2 for my Snickers bar, and watched as the metal spool slowly drew that chocolately goodness toward me only to get hung up on the end.
I watched it as it dangled there, mocking me from the other side of a half-inch piece of Plexiglass, the bar turned sideways so that the S on the package curled into a cruel, sinister grin.
I’ve told you all of that in the hopes that what I say next will not alter your opinion of me, if indeed it is favorable.
Because I beat the holy snot out of that machine.
Oh yes I did. I rocked it, punched it, kicked it, tilted it, even head butted it. And in the process I came to realize that I was not doing so just because I was hungry (which was a good thing, seeing as how afterward my Snickers was still dangling from the metal spool on the end of C2) or even because I was mad.
No, I was physically assaulting an innocent metal box because I DESERVED that candy bar.
I didn’t get my Snickers that day. In fact, I drove home two hours later convinced that someone would find me alongside the road barbequing some innocent dairy farmer’s heifer.
It was tough, I tell you. But even tougher than that hunger was the knowledge that I’d done everything right. I’d put the right amount of money in that vending machine, chosen the right letter, picked the right number. I’d followed all the rules.
When you do the right thing and follow all the rules, you shouldn’t find your reward dangling on the other side of a piece of hardened plastic. You’re supposed to get your reward in hand and embrace the sublime satisfaction of enjoying it. Because that’s right. Because that’s what’s supposed to happen.
And I wonder now as I wondered then about all the others who’d had to learn that same lesson. About the ones who spent their lives working only to have their jobs snatched away or the ones who prayed and had those prayers go unanswered. I wondered about all the love that was given but not given back and all the hope that was lifted up only to come tumbling down.
We’re all hungry for something, that’s true. But our hunger isn’t what defines it. Our hunger doesn’t make us who we are.
No, who we are is what we choose to be when that something we hunger for tarries.