I remember being six and standing in the cheese line at the fairgrounds with my Mom and brothers. It was a beautiful, bright day. There was so much light around. I remember the light so well.
All of us were wearing hand-me-downs or Salvation Army specials. There was more than cheese, of course—“provisions” is what they called it, and I remember powdered milk, cereal, and other necessities and my belly grumbling with hunger and excitement as we received the plainly labeled packages that would be rationed for weeks—but it was the cheese line, no doubt, because that’s what kids called it at school. Their Moms and Dads apparently hadn’t ever hit a bad patch for long enough to make them swallow their pride and stand in line to feed their kids. Nearly every day, I heard all about the lazy, good-for-nuthins that stood in line for food they did not earn or deserve. Kids learn a lot from their parents, I guess, so I got to hear firsthand from my classmates how lazy, stupid, and selfish we were—especially my old man. It ate me up to hear how awful we were for taking handouts and no matter what I said nobody gave a good shit that my Dad worked his ass off. When he got laid off, he did everything he could to provide. He worked odd jobs for those in our rural town that could afford to hire a helper. He fixed things for family and friends. He picked bottles and cans to cash in on the deposit money. And when things got tight in the fall and winter, he shot deer so we had meat on the table and waiting in the freezer. Dad applied for jobs, spent lots of time at the unemployment office, and was always busy never giving up. Eventually, he got hired back at the factory and made a very good living. One that gave us everything we would ever need. We weren’t rich by any means, but he worked for decades not because he liked ruining his lungs with shop air, and not because he wanted to lose his hearing to shop machines, but because he wanted to give his wife and kids a good life. And because he got a little lift in the form of a social welfare program. Hell, that little boost coupled with his tenacity and devotion carries on into today.
For the most part, I don’t fuck around. My wife and kids come first. And I do everything I can to make sure that ends meet and overlap so that there’s at least a little left over to give. But still, on a night like this—kids just put to bed in their cozy rooms, my wife sipping wine watching high def TV, and me at these keys sipping vodka and Sprite as nine bells call out from the church down the street—I know I’m not doing enough. None of us are.
Less than a mile away, there’s a third grade boy dreading going to school tomorrow because he’ll be teased for wearing hand-me-downs.
Down 2nd Avenue, just north of the bridge, there’s a little girl that just wants a warm bath.
Somewhere in this sleepy lakeshore town coined as a “warm and friendly port,” there’s a man that’s made some bad decisions, but doesn’t deserve to be sleeping on a concrete slab.
Everywhere at every moment there’s a spirit that needs a lift and yet we choose to walk away. We judge quickly and embrace cynicism because it’s easy. We don’t want to think. We don’t want to feel. We just want to live our own little lives and don’t want to be bothered. And when we do this, we die a little. Oh, it’s imperceptible. It can be ignored. Shrugged off. After all, it’s our money and our own life we’re looking out for. We do a fine job of distracting ourselves from what’s really important quite easily. We buy shit we don’t need. We’re afraid to believe. And we follow like sheep. Donating to political campaigns and scrolling through Facebook all along the way. Little do we know, those little deaths all add up and eventually the light is pulled away.