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Right outside your door

Fri, Nov 23rd, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

By Eric Leitzen

By the time you read this, you’ll most likely be nursing distended tummies following Thanksgiving… and isn’t it great?

It’s a tradition that stretches back longer than there have even been traditions to speak of: lots of food, fun, and frolic, all simply to say “hey, it’s pretty great to be alive.”

After the last few years, I’m sure plenty of people could use the simple and small comfort that comes from a little pumpkin pie and cozy sense of being. No doubt, it’s been a pretty crazy time; some of you reading can probably vouch for that more than I can.

In a way, I was pretty lucky: sure, I graduated into a quagmire of uncertainty, insolvency and general bad-feeling… but I still have broad shoulders and a strong back. I can be on my feet for hours at a time, toting barges, lifting bales, et cetera, and I understand that I’m at the bottom of the totem pole, here. A different time, a different place, I would have been able to start off as a teacher in some homey little Midwestern burg, but I can at least accept that times are tough and I have to grit my teeth a little. When you’re born into a crisis, so to speak, it’s easier to adapt than someone who saw their good times and good feeling vanish in a puff of smoke.

So, I’ve managed to stave if off for a few paragraphs, but here comes the post-Thanksgiving buzzkill and Holiday downer that you see trotted out every year: in this time of giving thanks, remember to be thankful for what you have, and take a moment to consider those who are less fortunate. You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it, anyone who has been to a kindergarten pageant has heard it. It’s an easy issue to throw out there so you can seem sincere and somewhat justify your consumption of a metric ton of green bean casserole, and that’s the problem: it is easy. Too easy. And, therefore, easy to dismiss.

“Sure,” you can say, “let’s all take a moment to bow our heads and think about those starving in (insert nation/continent/principality here).”

That’s too easy. It’s too easy to think about someone who’s far away in a strange land with a strange language and strange customs. It’s too easy to think, in our small-town Midwestern sensibilities, of the huddled masses pushing shopping carts in New York City. That’s a thousand miles away, probably a different race, possibly a different religion. In a word: alien to us. Instead of paying lip service to some vaguely defined problem which exists anywhere from half a world to several worlds away, let’s use the prevailing spirit of the day to breathe some new life into this tired, tired old chestnut of guilt and admonishment.

Jobs. When you hear that word, what do you think of now? Probably all the overheated rhetoric in Washington about this plan and that cliff and this doom or gloom. Instead of moving it far away and making it alien, bring it to Minnesota, bring it to Wisconsin, bring it to Iowa. Think to yourself of the people you know looking for work, or who are working jobs that don’t pay enough or are so far below their training that it’s almost laughable. Think to yourself how many “for sale” signs you see on your street or in town, during your morning commute… and try to remember now many fewer signs you saw ten years ago. Think of trying to live on twenty-nine dollars a week for food, like those on government assistance are given. This isn’t a problem far away and out of sight, this is a problem right here, right next door, maybe right in your own home.

When I drive to work every night at one in the morning, a job where I use my college degree for unskilled labor, I pass countless houses…nice houses, some with nice cars out front. And I look at my car with half the bumper missing and the taped up window and my rental home and the thousands of dollars in student loans that my wife and I have to pay back… and I often wonder about those people in their nice houses. I wonder if they know just how good they have it to be sleeping peacefully on little patch of Earth that is all theirs. I wonder if they give thanks and, more importantly, if they will realize exactly how good they have it right now, how lucky they were to be able to afford those houses and cars.

I know it’s easy to let my heart bleed here and weep for the children and the poor wretches of the world, and wish I had more I could do, or give. But I can write this, and have you read it, and maybe the next time you gas up or buy a pair of pants and the cashier asks if you could donate a dollar, you think a little of that cute little girl down the street and how her parents are having trouble keeping her fed, and you give that dollar. Lord knows I love a Whopper now and then, but it really wouldn’t kill me to cut back on the onion rings and help out someone in need. I’m lucky, I can still afford a Whopper if I want one, and I can afford to give thanks for what I have by helping someone else.

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