Sunday, February 22, 2009

It Takes Much More Than Just One Village

By Zinta Aistars

In yet another of his poignant poems, “The Homeless: Psalm 85:10,” poet Aberjhani writes: “This world’s anguish is no different/from the love we insist on holding back.” In it, Aberjhani describes an artist who gathers the homeless to record the rumblings of their empty stomachs—the rumbling of unfed emptiness is just the sound the artist craves for his symphony. He pays the hungry a dime and pushes them back out into the street.

Aberjhani gives me pause. What he has captured in his poem bounces off the commentaries about our economy that I’ve been listening to on National Public Radio as I commute (feeling blessed) to my job. The stimulus package, the “bailout” as some call it, the inconceivable numbers—who can truly conceive of billions?—that is underway now in an all out effort to nudge our ailing economy back into life—is it wise? Rise, Lazarus! And we have all heard it, and many of us joined in the heated discussion: When is it enough? To whom do we give? From whom withhold? Yes, who is deserving and who deserves only punishment?

On one thing we all seem to agree. This sad state of affairs has been caused by unbridled greed. The rich have ached to get ever richer. The poor have ached for an end to their misery. With that combination of factors, the wealthy have tapped into the dreams of the less wealthy and promised them manna from heaven, and sure, it is, almost, nearly, just about free. Well, not really. The loans for big dreams rolled out shiny and tempting, but the price to pay was there, and it is that hidden price we are all paying now.

This is where the ruckus begins. Why should we all pay for the greed and weakness and foolishness of others? Those of us who bought our homes within our means, paid cash for our groceries, drove sensible cars, made the payments on our bills in time and in full, and generally lived our lives with an attitude of responsibility—why should be now bail out those who did not? Admittedly, my initial thoughts went that same path. I work hard. I have lived much of my adult life as a single parent, receiving little or no child support to ease the load, whether financially or emotionally, of raising two children. I won’t even begin to try to elaborate on how difficult that has been. I had dreams, too, but I understood patience. Yet here I am now, with shelter, however modest, stocked pantry, debt nearly paid off, and a very reasonable mortgage payment. I’ve been pinching pennies most of my life, and even now when I could afford to toss a quarter or two over my shoulder without noticing, I won’t buy what I cannot afford. If I can’t pay for it in cash, on the store shelf it stays. So, why should I pay for those who drove up their credit bills and lusted for five-bathroom houses on cul-de-sacs in gated communities?

I listened with interest to the NPR wise folk, broadcasting commentaries. I happen to be an NPR junkie, because public broadcasting opens my ears to ideas and thoughts I had not considered. Now, a poem by Aberjhani echoes those thoughts, and it rings true and it rings home to me. Why should we care about bailing out others? Who are we, after all, to pass moral judgment on those who reached for too much? While some of them may have been greedy, others may simply have been big dreamers, if foolish. A moral failing is one thing, for it is a conscious choice, but an act of foolishness is quite another. The most important factor here, however, is that we remember what got us into this mess, as a society, in the first place: greed. Caring too much about our own comfort, not enough for that of others. The rumblings of the hungry were just another eccentric song to add to our exuberant symphony. Are we to be greedy now and not think about our foolish neighbor?

The reality is, these economic commentators pointed out, that property values fall in a domino effect when one house, two, three, foreclose. We cannot save the deserving without including in the net the undeserving as well. We cannot save an ailing economy for an entire country, indeed, an entire globe, if we are going to try to pick and choose who gets what and why. We all need help. We all depend one upon the other. We are none of us free if one of us is yet a slave to debt. We have thought each about our own welfare and wellbeing for far too long. A nation of self-absorbed, narcissistic people will not, cannot, thrive. Can we learn from our own recent history? What got us into this mess—always putting our own desires first—will never get us out.

Or, as one of the commentators, an ethicist, pointed out—if we all got what we deserved, we would all be in hell. How about a little heavenly bailing out? The water is flooding into one and the same ship, carrying us all.

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