I grew up with privilege. Even before our current societal awareness of white privilege, I knew I had significant and rare advantages. Not money or great schools or opportunities. I had family.
My mom's siblings have always been a tight-knit, supportive group, including all their spouses. Even after my dad died, my mom reconnected with a friend from childhood, who had been part of the social crowd when they were all teens. Well, mostly teens. Mom remembers being the left-out little kid when her all-older siblings, along with my stepdad and his brothers, were dating and entering college and starting their adult lives in the late 1940s.
Through the years they all stayed connected. I have wonderful memories of holidays with my cousins, while Mom's brothers and sisters hosted the Morehouse clan. When Mom married into the Pierce family, a whole second chapter of close siblings and all their kids were added to the mix. My mom & dad's "immediate" family exceeded fifty people.
Dad is six years older than Mom, and Mom's eldest sibling is nine years older. Their support and wisdom saved her many times in her young years. But Mom is in her 80s now. Dad had a heart monitor put in the other day. Mom's two middle siblings, Hap and Shirley, both died in the last year. Eldest sister Margie is in the hospital, as is Shirley's widower, Kirk. This is a hard time for my mom.
These people shaped us into who we are. Each of them is a part of me, and I'm so much better, wiser, stronger, and more capable because of their influence. I can't imagine how much more they are a part of my mom, but I know they are in her mind and heart and spirit. She's generous because they gave to her. She's kind because they cared. She's wise because they taught, and brave because they shared their courage.
Every day, I meet people who are alone because their family all died, or left, or gave up on them, and I am reminded how privileged I am. Even as my mom's heart breaks while her generation's lives reach their end, none of us are ever alone. We all live in one another, and as I watch my daughter become more like my mother, I am grateful for the family that came before, for the legacy they gave us. Most especially, I'm grateful for my mother, for her commitment to family, for the sacrifices she continues to make without a second thought, because family is her purpose, her strength, her gift.
Several articles have come out this year about power causing brain damage (cited below for your convenience). No big surprise there. The more power an individual has, the less he/she needs to empathize with others, the less he/she has to understand or care, the less he/she is motivated to take on helping anybody else. In a very broad, general sense, of course. Most super-wealthy people give generously to charity.
So power, in and of itself, broadens the divide between the rich and the poor, and contributes to the decline of our middle class. But I don't think power, or even wealthy people, can be blamed for our failing democracy. As we watch the power of the people wane and see a modern feudal system developing, in which giant business interests can pay below-poverty wages, We The People have to take some responsibility.
The blanket statement that money is power is treason in a democracy. It's giving up. It's allowing oneself to become a victim, thereby increasing the truth of the statement. The power of the people isn't something that comes naturally in this world, and our forefathers worked very hard to create a power-of-the-people society that bucks tradition and history. We want to rise above petty competition and labeling people and classes/castes and slavery and bowing to anyone as if they were better than us. We want to hold our heads high, no matter our income, and speak out for truth and justice. If money is power and power damages the brain, our duty as ordinary citizens is even more important than we realized.
The only thing allowing money to corrupt, allowing power to disengage from compassion, is our failure to speak up. Each and every citizen in a democracy has a responsibility to be educated, aware, and to praise the parts that are working, expose the damaging bits, and be willing to carry a share of the weight to make everything work, with or without money. I don't have money, but I have a voice.
The United States is on a collision course to failure. Mankind is on a collision course to extinction. We can change these paths, but we can't do it sitting around musing over the mess. We have to take some steps, or make a call, or write a check, or join a team. We have to serve a meal, share a room, complain about excessive packaging. It doesn't really matter what action any one of us takes -- if we all do SOMETHING, we can change the world.
Once Halloween is over with, the candy has been disposed of, the costumes and spiders are all back in their bins in the garage, it becomes the season of anticipation for me. The weather is changing, the clocks are falling back, the evenings are dark, the mornings are damp, and turning the oven on seems like a good idea. We bought apples for a pie. I've started thinking about what small gifts would be most appreciated by the kids -- a rolling pin for Will? some fondant tools for Katie? (My kids love to bake -- big surprise!)
This year, there's far more anticipation than usual. My grandson is due in mid-December! Just a few years ago, I was pretty sure neither of my kids would be having children. Will, at 27, still seems dead-set against having a family. But Katie & PJ surprised us all, and I couldn't be more delighted. PJ is head and shoulders above the other young men she dated, and his capacity for parenting is already very visible. Katie turned into a mature, responsible adult practically overnight when she learned she was pregnant. Now we're in the last six weeks of waiting.
It's going to be a cold winter. We're wondering if it was wise to go with hard floors instead of carpet, and whether little Carter will have warm enough sleepers. Or whether we'll be able to turn up the thermostat a little and still manage the power bills. PJ is going to take a few weeks off work and be there for Katie, a tremendous blessing for her and a scary choice from the budget point of view. Sometimes it's a little difficult to honor our priorities and not become a slave to money or sell out our family for perceived security. We've always gotten by before, and thanks to supportive family, we will come out of the other end of this winter just fine, with an amazing new member of our family to show for it.
These are normal anticipations -- some traditions, some pleasures, some worries, and overall a deep gratitude for the comforts and joys in our lives, homes, and families. It's heartbreaking to know that these aren't the simple wishes of so many people. Katie was just telling me about a friend who is having a baby next week. She and her boyfriend live in their car. She wasn't even aware she was pregnant until six weeks ago. They both smoke, drink, do recreational drugs, and don't have any prospects for their future.
In Oregon, it's not OK for kids to be homeless. The system assumes that a foster home with a roof and food security is better than living with parents who can't provide those basics. I wonder if Katie's friend knows this? Probably not -- so many of the young people trying to live off the grid or outside of boring old traditional lifestyles have no idea what the consequences will be. And that's just the people that are choosing non-conformity. So many more families are willing and eager to work, have always fought to provide for their kids, and find themselves unable to accommodate a 50% or more jump in rent all of a sudden.
What would you do, if you couldn't come up with an extra $500 a month and were suddenly evicted? Would you have family or friends who would take you in? Would you be able to add another part-time job to your schedule to afford higher rent? Or would you find yourself in an old motor home on someone's unused garden patch, because parking it on public property is illegal? Would you live in the minivan? Make room for the kids to sleep in a make-shift bed while you tried to catch a little rest in the driver's seat? Would you have to wash as best you could in the Burger King restroom with paper towels, and then go off to work as if everything were under control? Would you seek help, or would you hide from authorities in order to keep your children with you?
I am so, so grateful that my daughter, her husband, and their baby are going to be here, secure, warm, and fed this winter. That my son and his girlfriend also have family support, choices, and all their needs met. There are no guarantees in this world, and the privileges of family and safety nets, for us, are very deeply appreciated.
I hope you and yours feel as much gratitude as I do in this season of anticipation. These are two of the emotions that make life rich and full.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.