One Good Word

Loaves and Fishes

By David Whyte

This is not

The age of information.

This is not

the age of information.

Forget the news,

and the radio

and the blurred screen.

This is the time

of loaves

and fishes.

People are hungry,

and one good word is bread

for a thousand.

I suppose you can call a poem “great” when it rings in your head asking questions months after you’ve read it. That’s why I think this is a great poem. I can’t really be sure that I know exactly what Whyte meant, but these words regularly challenge one of the major struggles going on in my life these days.

Like so many of us, I want to change the world. My problem is, no one elected or appointed me “Queen of the Universe,” so I’m having a little trouble getting that done.

But then, there is this quiet and persistent voice inside saying, “Slow down and pay attention to the people right in front of you.” I think that one of the things Whyte is saying is that we need each other more than we need information. It’s the person to person connection Daniel Berrigan talks about:

Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope that you might have baked it or bought or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on his face, for the meeting of your eyes across a piece of bread, you might be willing to loose a lot, or suffer a lot, or die a little, even.

Something powerful happens in the “meeting of the eyes” in this sharing of the word or bread. It is not just the bread or the word that is being exchanged. This human to human connection is something we all need to survive – its hard-wired into us. It feeds our souls the same way that food feeds our bodies. And like food, the more nutritious the connection, the healthier we become.

People are indeed hungry for that human connection and are all too often trying to feed it with the “fast food” of mindless consumption and superficial pablum (ie, Brittany Spears’ travails). As the hunger mounts, the fear sets in and people become susceptible to manipulation and propaganda. And we who are trying to change things too often offer them information and data. These are worthwhile and important, but they don’t assuage the fear or fill the void left by the hunger.

There’s no way to “mass media” this kind of connection. It happens person-to-person and that means it takes patience and persistence. But eventually I think the ripples will start being felt exponentially.

Its hard to know every day that there is so much wrong with the world and feel like I have so little to contribute to change things. But I think about Nelson Mandela spending those 27 years in jail while his brothers and sisters died fighting apartheid and oppression. I’ve read that while in prison, Mandela didn’t just rail against the injustice. He reached out to those around him, both prisoners and guards, and touched their souls with his presence and wisdom. He knew they were hungry, and he realized the radical notion that “one good word is bread for a thousand.”


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  1. of a poem about “success” that has been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

    To laugh often and much;

    To win the respect of intelligent people

    and the affection of children;

    To earn the appreciation of honest critics

    and endure the betrayal of false friends;

    To appreciate beauty,

    to find the best in others;

    To leave the world a bit better,

    whether by a healthy child,

    a garden patch

    or a redeemed social condition;

    To know even one life has breathed easier

    because you have lived.

    This is to have succeeded.

    • RiaD on February 3, 2008 at 18:09

    this is so lovely, so true, so necessary, so hopefilled.

    thank you.

  2. From his contribution to the Manifestos on the Future of Feed and Seed:

    The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data tells us that we produce food for 12 billion people, when there are only 6.3 billion people living. Meanwhile, 800 million suffer from malnutrition and hunger, 1.7 billion suffer from obesity, and the rate of diabetes is growing exponentially along with cardiovascular diseases caused by malnutrition. (15)

    • Edger on February 3, 2008 at 18:12

    !!! !!!

    • Edger on February 3, 2008 at 18:22

    Imagine there’s no heaven,

    It’s easy if you try,

    No hell below us,

    Above us only sky,

    Imagine all the people

    Living for today…

    Imagine there’s no countries,

    It isn’t hard to do,

    Nothing to kill or die for,

    No religion too,

    Imagine all the people

    Living life in peace…

    Imagine no possessions,

    I wonder if you can,

    No need for greed or hunger,

    A brotherhood of man,

    Imagine all the people

    Sharing all the world…

    You may say I’m a dreamer,

    But I’m not the only one,

    I hope some day you’ll join us,

    And the world will live as one.

    Great essay, NL!

  3. an inspirational and thought-provoking diary.

  4. My problem is, no one elected or appointed me “Queen of the Universe,” so I’m having a little trouble getting that done

    ’cause i could make a few cals…. 😉

    wonderful essay, NL.  two days before ‘fat tuesday’…something to think on…

    thank you

  5. you Queen of the Universe doesn’t mean you can’t claim the crown anyway.Your beautiful thoughts have convinced me!

    • KrisC on February 3, 2008 at 18:45

    cook books, “The Sacred Kitchen” has in its’ margins, many wonderful sayings;

    Edward Espe Brown

    I do this chore

    not just to get it

    out of the way,

    but as the way

    to make real kind

    connected mind.

    May I awaken to what

    these ingredients offer,

    and may I awaken

    best I can

    energy, warmth,


    this offering

    of heart and hand.

    Leon R. Kass, M.D.

    We face serious dangers

    from our increasingly

    utilitarian, functional,

    or “economic” attudes toward

    food.  True, fast food, TV dinners,

    and eating on the run

    save time, meet our needs

    for “fuel,” and provide close

    to instant gratification.  But

    for these very reasons, they

    diminish opportunities for

    conversation, communion,

    and aesthetic discernment’

    they thus shortchange the

    other hungers of the soul.

    Disposable utensils and

    paper plates save labor at

    the price of refinement,

    and also symbolically deny

    memory and permanence

    their rightful places at the

    table.  Meals eaten before the

    television set turn eating

    into feeding.

    This is a beautiful diary you have written, NL, and it is all so very true….

    “one good word is bread for a thousand.”


    • Edger on February 3, 2008 at 19:36

    NL’s essay needs a “rec” button!!!!

  6. Hi Everybody, I just discovered Docudharma a few days ago. Very nice. Lots of familiar blog names here, too.

    • Edger on February 3, 2008 at 20:29

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

    It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    — Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech, 1994

    The above speech by Nelson Mandela was orignally written by Marianne Williamson who is the author of other similar material.”

    • kj on February 3, 2008 at 22:33

    If anyone is interested in sending some actual bread, NENA could use some:

    (NENA the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association)

    priority needs are:

    1.) Building Materials: nails to studs to wire.

    2.) Money

    3.) Gift Cards from: Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, Win Dixie Food Stores, Dollar General, Family Dollar  

    Send to:


    PO Box 3920

    New Orleans, Louisiana 70177

  7. Something powerful is happening on Docudharma, and it’s because of beautiful writing like this.

    • kj on February 4, 2008 at 01:53

    needed to read (or should i say ‘nibble’?) this again.  

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