Friday, July 9, 2010

Rich or Poor

"A party that is intimidated and silent in the face of its extremes is eventually defined by them," writes Michael Gerson in today's Washington Post.  

Replace the word "party" with "person."  That's what happened in Germany under Hitler.  That's what happens when a teenager goes along with the crowd.  That's what happens if you and I sit silent when we know something wrong is going on.

A commentator in one of our local newspapers writes this week that "...our government defines the poor not by their lifestyle but by whether they fall into the lowest 15 percent of wage earners.  So, while it is true we have some actual poor that need assistance, under the government definition, 80 percent of our poor live in air-conditioned homes, 43 percent own their own home, 62 percent of those homes have cable and 31 percent have two or more cars parked in the driveway."

That sentence intrigues me.  Karen and I live in a house without air conditioning.  Does that make us rich or poor?  We own our home (most of it, that is).  Does that make us rich or poor?  Our home doesn't have cable, but it does have satellite reception.  Does that makes us rich or poor?  Right now, three vehicles are parked in our driveway.  Does that make us rich or poor? 

Several years ago, a couple who lived in a city spent a weekend with us.  Sunday afternoon, just before they left, the husband, shifting left and right, said he had one question he wanted us to answer.  "Why do you choose to live in such poverty?"

"I get it," says Virginia.  "Think Mother Teresa.  Was she rich or poor?  What would she think of air conditioning, an owned home, cable and cars, or of earning less than 85% of the crowd of wage-earners?"

Here is one of my few published poems.


Someone I know does not understand
how good it feels to cut firewood,
hang wet clothes on a line,
add garbage to a compost heap,
spade a new garden by hand,
and harvest sunflower seeds.
He calls it poverty.

The eye of the needle
spots me on the way to heaven,
hefting my sack of greenbacks,
glories won in wonder years,
deadly burdens dearly borne
while tending thriving gardens
dying refugees cannot taste.

I shovel manure into my pickup,
imagining it rich as gold,
but I am an imposter who knows
how tough it is to be simple
when being simple is not tough
and I cannot help thinking
someone I know might be right.

No comments:

Post a Comment