By Jean Blish Siers *
A couple weeks ago, I received a windfall. If you think a distant relative left me a fortune, you would be, in a word, wrong! “Windfall” has two meanings, and in the gleaning world, they feel closely related. It can mean an unexpected and unearned gain (like that vast fortune I did not receive); and it also means a fruit – apple, orange, peach — that has been knocked off a tree by the wind.
It started out a cold, blue-sky morning and we were gleaning apples at a beautiful orchard near Hendersonville, North Carolina. The ground was covered in red Rome apples after a Halloween storm blew through a couple days earlier. It felt like an unexpected, unearned treat to us: All we had to do was bend over and pick up the windfall fruit that waited for us!
It struck me how often we don’t take the opportunity to see the windfall that is all around us. We can live our lives aware of scarcity, or we can choose to look for abundance.
To be clear, I know plenty of people in my community live without an abundance of food, or without the money with which to purchase it or the other things necessary for their daily lives. I see the complicated interplay of scarcity and abundance all year long: I fill ten trucks with food from a generous farmer and the produce is handed out by evening. Even with everything I send out, I’m left wishing I had more to give.
But I also know this: Too many of us who live in startling abundance choose to see only scarcity, and it makes us afraid, unkind, and ungenerous. We worry that someone else has more than we have or will get more if we let down our guard: a bigger house, a newer car, or they’re taking a nicer vacation. Maybe their kids go to better schools. Or their retirement plan will look better than ours. We think if we work to meet others’ basic needs (a livable wage, access to health care, a decent place to live, equitable schools) that it will somehow take away from us, from our lives, from our needs. We see life as a zero-sum game rather than “a rising tide lifts all boats.” We see scarcity rather than the abundance – the windfall – that is all around us.
Walking through that orchard, I was struck by the diversity of our gleaning team. We were white and African-American. We were Americans and we were Eastern European immigrants who spoke little English. We were young and not-so-young. Everyone worked hard. Gathering windfalls requires a lot of bending and some of our backs and knees don’t bend so well anymore. Buckets get awfully heavy when they’re full.
What we shared was a willingness to see bounty where others see waste. And it’s not enough to see the bounty. We also have to act on it, rescue it, and share it with those who don’t live as abundantly as we do.
That Saturday was a windfall day for me. It was a chance to see abundance in an orchard that was ready to be put to bed for the winter. In the thin fall sunshine of the North Carolina mountains, I got to spend a morning gathering not only apples but also more than a little bit of God’s grace for his people. That’s a windfall by anyone’s standards!
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Western NC, Charlotte Area, and South Carolina Program Coordinator