What does this mean, why is it important? "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.”
In "A Small, Good Thing" by minimalist Raymond Carver is a story with a message of sympathy and forgiveness and the cited line is pivotal to this lesson.
Not knowing that Ann and Howard Weiss have been at the hospital for the last three days, a baker phones them repeatedly to inform them that they have not picked up the birthday cake which they have ordered. After the third day, their son, having been struck by a car, has died and the grief-stricken parents return home. When the phone rings again, they think it is the man who has struck their son calling anonymously; later, however, Ann realizes it is the baker calling about the cake that they have failed to pick up. Incensed, Ann calls the baker names and they drive to the shopping center to confront him.
When they reach the bakery, it is closed, but they go around the the back and knock when they hear a radio. The baker opens the door, saying he is closed and asks, "What do you want at this hour?....Are you drunk or something?" Ann walks into the bakery, anyway. She tells her husband, "...this is the man who's been calling us.
She clenched her fists. She stared at him fiercely. There was a deep burning inside her, an anger that made her feel larger than herself, larger than either of these men.
The baker tells her he does not want to argue with her, and she can have her cake for half price. When she does not reply, he tells her she can have the cake for free. Ann continues her hostility; the baker looks at Howard and says, "Careful, careful." When Ann breaks down and cries, Howard utters, "Shame" to the baker. But, when Ann cries that her son for whom they ordered the cake is dead, the baker throws off his apron and clears the table. He asks them to sit down on the chairs that he pulls out.
"Let me say how sorry I am," the baker tells the Weisses. "I'm just a baker....Maybe once, maybe years ago, I was a different kind of human being. I've forgotten...But I'm deeply sorry...for your son, and sorry for my part in this." He tells Ann and Howard that he has no children. He explains that after all the years of making cakes for others when he has no one has rendered him an odd man who does not know how to act.
You probably need to eat something," the baker said. "I hope you'll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this," he said.
Ann and Howard eat his warm cinnamon rolls that have just come from the oven. The baker watches them and encourages them to eat more as the act of eating together involves sharing. Then the baker speaks of his own loneliness, telling them what it has been like to be childless all these years. When his bread is baked, they all share the warm bread. Ann and Howard stay until the morning as they have broken bread with this lonely man with whom they share childlessness. They forgive him.