Winter’s soul-chilling winds have already staked their claim on the calendar, and any balmy respite we may enjoy from now until, oh, say March, will be illusory at best,
Time to load up on crisp red apples from the Georgia hills. Time to finish the wood stacked since last summer, time to move it onto the porch on its dry fibers ready to burst into warmth and brightness on a rain-dark night.
Time to gather family close again, to touch each others’ hands, reminding us of old bonds and new dreams. Time to celebrate life.
And just as sure as the back pages of the newspapers fill up with Christmas sales, the front pages are covered with pictures of the street people, the homeless in our cities, the scavengers ransacking dumpsters and other street people in their search for survival.
I don’t know what to think about them, do you? I read the articles and I watch the television accounts because I really do want to know whether this is a scandal I should get indignant about, or a scam I can dismiss with disgust.
A compassionate writer I used to read regularly lived among the street people for a while and did a series about his experiences. It was deeply moving, but I did not find the answers I was looking for. Like others, he made it clear that many of the people expend as much energy and resourcefulness simply existing, as many working people expend on their jobs.
If times were especially hard, I could understand. If jobs were really scarce, unemployment high, I could understand. If any nation, or if ours was a land devastated by war or famine, I could understand. But it is not so.
I confess, I was in a similar quandary a few months back, when we were being bombarded with stories about our national shame, illiteracy. There is, I believe, a correlation here.
In the wealthiest country in the world, where schooling is free and available to everyone, am I supposed to say “Aw, poor thing! Have some more public assistance. Since we have and you have not, it’s only right that we should share.” I think not.
And then again…Have you ever thought about the fact that, at 35 or 40 or 50 years of age, that you are what you are because of decisions made for you by a 15-year-old who no longer exists?
I believe nearly everyone will admit he is not the same person he was when he was very young. Yet that young person, that high school drop-out against all advice, that fool who hopped from job to job or started a family while still a child herself, or drank or smoked or overate – that one locked you in forevermore to be, not “all that you could be,” but only the least that you could be.
Unquestionably, there are those for whom circumstances were such that they could not finish school. There are those temporarily out of work, or out of home, those who are at the moment overwhelmed by a bad turn of luck. For these help should be and is available, and of course the community should share with them.
But the preacher said to me, “Many others of the street are certifiably mental patients. The system simply cannot hold them any longer, and when they are released there is nowhere for them to go.” And so they live in doorways and under bridges, and churches ladle food into their outstretched hands, and they’ll be back tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
But I have heard the stories, and I know the role of alcohol and infidelity in these people’s lives and unwillingness to accept life’s responsibilities. They are the products of a change-the-channel society. When the boss hassles, quit the job. When the wife nags, quit the marriage, and when bills are due, simply disappear.
As long as there is someone willing to stay on the job and with the family and to meet the needs of society, there will be someone from whom to beg a meal and a blanket.
So why work?
In church recently the scriptures read, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat. We hear that some among you are idle… we command and urge such people to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”
That should settle it, right? That should certainly dispel my guilt when I crawl into a warm bed tonight and watch the news about how cold it is on the concrete.
It is of no concern to me. The holiday season is upon us, like it or not, and it is time to celebrate life. Time to honor him who comes “with healing in his wings…born to raise the sons of earth.”
Time to figure out what he meant by, “I was hungry and you fed me…naked and you clothed me.” [Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]