With the sequester deadline looming, there’s been a lot of talk about what these cuts mean.
They want you to think about the programs that will be cut.
They want you to think about the income that will be lost.
They want you to think about the state of the economy.
They want you to think about who’s out there guarding the wall.
But, when you cut through it–the question comes down to responsibility. How much, or how little are we responsible for those around us, those above us, and those below us? Those in need? Those that have? Those that create? Those that don’t? Where do our loyalties lie?
When I listen to the arguments for cutting “entitlement” programs, I find myself at a loss. I don’t understand how you arrive at a place where you’re willing to cut programs that help people pay for their food, for their medicine…when they can’t do it on their own. I wonder how you can see food stamps enrollment exploding, and blame the people in the program as if living on assistance was the goal. As if they would rather need food stamps, than not need food stamps.
And I wonder where this insularity came from. How did we grow to a nation with so many that don’t believe we should do everything we can, for those most in need? It got me thinking about all of the people that helped get me to where I am. The people who helped raise me, feed me, gave me a safe place when I needed shelter, gave me guidance when I didn’t know what to do.
I love my parents, and they did a hell of a job–but in any life, you’re looked out for and cared for by a long line of people that range from great friends to near-strangers.
I had neighbors, like the Bertrands, Schumanns, Krigbaums, and Matos families – who laid out meals for between three and twelve kids on any given day, because it was their turn to be “on duty” while the other parents were working. Who cleaned up my cuts and scrapes, and mended hurt feelings with tall glasses of black cherry Kool-Aid. Who picked me up from school when my parents were working late, and not only taught each of us how to swing a hammer, plant grass, and bait a hook - but that you can make a good, honest living doing ANY of those things.
I’m talking about the sitters that looked after my brothers and me when we were horrible, awful beasts. Sitters that took my parents’ money, and never answered a phone call from them again. And that’s before you even get to good ones–Francie and Jane Hammer, and Jen Vish–who watched over us like we were their children. Who taught us patience and how to be reasonable when all you want is ice cream for dinner and to stay up until midnight. Or Suzette and Doug, a married couple that would stay with us for a few days and let our parents recuperate. Who’d run us all over town for practices, and meetings, and games - and then field calls from Mr. Ward about my totally level-headed reaction to his misguided grading policies.
Teachers like Mrs. O’Brien, who smacked me in the head when I wasn’t going to take her advanced English class, and then told me every draft I ever wrote for her was pretty good–but could be better–just to see how much further I’d dig.
Or Professor McMenamin, who let me sit in the back of his classroom, but forced me to give front-row effort. Who never once kicked me out of his class or out of his office–though God knows I asked for it–probably because he worried I might not come back. He was right.
Or Eric and Mark–who hired me to run a sports camp and adopted me as a brother. Men that helped me with both my most existential, and pragmatic problems, helped me find a place in New York City and South Africa, and gave me some of the best years of my life.
Or the Lupica Family, who were my home away from home. They were third and fourth parents to me, when two wasn’t nearly enough. They visited me at college, took me on trips, and helped shape an eye for good writing, and a sense of generosity.
Or the the Commonwealth Housing Projects–its families let me come into their front doors, teach their kids, and share meals. They dropped off food for me because they knew I was a poor college student, and tut-tutted me when I objected. They made me feel safe enough to be there from morning until night, and doubled-down to protect me and the tutors I bought when violence broke out in the neighborhood.
Or the co-workers here at NBC, who let me sleep in their offices when I didn’t have an apartment, brought leftovers from home, cut my hair, lent me ties, and even treated me when I didn’t have health insurance.
All of that is before we even get to the people I’ve never had the chance to thank, or in some cases meet - strangers that pulled me back from getting hit by cars, returned my lost wallets and phones, and set aside land for the affordable housing I grew up in. People I barely know, who contributed to my scholarship funds, gave my family hand-me-downs, made sure I got on and off the subway when I’d been drinking too much, let me ride the bus or subway when my card wasn’t working (because it was out of money), and on, and on, and on…
Even that’s just a fraction of who helped me get here. Without any of them, a couple of missed meals, a couple decisions without their counsel, who knows where I’d be? We listen to talk radio, and mix-up entitlements with “entitled.” These are things we should want to do, these programs grow our children, and help hardworking folks survive a cold night, a rough patch, a bad year.
You see, I’d like to believe I did all this on my own. But these people raised me to know better. A lot of hands helped guide me to this point. If even one strand in the web of support hadn’t been there–my entire story may be different.
Now, I know a rising tide may not raise all boats, but if somebody taught you how to bang a nail and bait a hook - maybe you survive the storm. Isn’t that alone, worth the effort?