I proposed to my wife over thirty years ago when we were both in grad school, poor but happy in a small midwestern city. My mother-in-law to-be telephoned her relatives in Canada to inform them of the upcoming nuptials and they asked the obvious question: what do they want for a wedding gift? Without consulting us or her husband, she replied, “Silver service.”
For thirty years, my wife and I have dutifully wrapped and boxed a least twenty pieces of silver service and schlepped them around the country as we moved for jobs. We cannot remember ever using one piece although my wife swears that we must have served on silver at least once. My only memories are pulling out the silver, moaning over the tarnish and wasting an afternoon polishing the pieces before wrapping them in fresh plastic wrap and putting them back in the cabinet.
We are moving again but this time we are paying for the move ourselves. After packing and unpacking the silver into cabinets and cupboards to be conveniently forgotten for years I insisted, the silver goes. We never use it and I am done polishing it. Thus began a series of conversations that culminated in a garage sale on a Sunday morning.
Downsizing has been a process. The back corners, the utility shelves and the closets were searched. Once we decided the task was insurmountable and someone else’s fault, we rallied our energy and started. The first weekends concluded with piles of junk on the curb. The weight of paperwork, notebooks and outdated materials of one Ph.D., one D.D., three M.A.’s, four undergraduate degrees and several careers was alarming. The unsalable was depressing. Metal for salvage was set aside for those entrepreneurial souls who cruised the neighborhoods on certain nights. By Monday morning, some of items were gone and others were dutifully thrown into the back of the garbage truck.
The house was purged and the garage was refilled. The digital notice went out and in the early evening the night before the sale, I nailed a sign at traffic light at the top of my neighborhood. Everything from the backyard was moved around to the fence for quick setup. The early morning alarm was set.
All the items were arranged for display on the asphalt of the driveway. I euphemistically referred to the furniture, the housewares, cd’s, silver, and other items as “crap” as in, “I put all the crap out; let’s see if it sells.”
By midmorning, I no longer thought of the items as crap. I had been blinded by my privilege. The couch, love seat, stuffed chair combo that had worn poorly was offered for free because bedbugs are an issue in my area and no reputable organization accepts them now. A family came somewhat early, asked about the furniture and claimed the set. A friend had phoned them, telling them of the offer. They took off all the cushions and then began calling everywhere to find a truck or van. In the late afternoon, we loaded the furniture in the back of large pickup belonging to a friend of a friend. The family was exhausted but content.
The gas grill went. The dresser was purchased by an employer for a woman who had no money after paying rent on an empty apartment. A woman who ships or delivers goods to poverty-stricken homes bought a box of bedsheets, mattress covers, bed ruffles, and tablecloths. We had a long conversation about the lack of supports. Her friend bought the mini-fridge for a house kitchen that only had a stove. More than one grandparent swung by searching for tools for their grandsons who work construction for a living.
Few if any want used books. No one wants dated stereo equipment either.
Almost everything went. Most of the items went to people without much means rather than the professional resellers that trawl garage sales early in the morning. Everything we sold was in working order. People needed what we had to offer, from tools and home goods to school supplies.
We had expected to make a couple hundred dollars with the assumption that we did not want anything we offered for sale to go into the landfill; better to sell it than dump it. Whether we realized what we had done, we had priced everything or repriced everything to get it out of my house into other households who would use it. I told the family who bought my gas grill where to get their propane tanks filled at the best price. I tied the eleven-foot extending ladder to the roof of a young woman’s car, after she walked her toddler in his stroller home first.
In Hebrew, business is called maseh u’matan, give and take. Nothing was priced to make a profit but I made a goodly one nonetheless. Everyone who chose to speak with me was treated with respect and the respect was reciprocated every time. People walked away with a smile and I smiled with them. The young man who purchased my lawnmower must have needed it because the relief on his face was evident when I quoted the price.
Their need struck me. Several of my visitors walked over from one of the main avenues only a few streets away. I must pass their homes daily, never giving them a thought or even a glance. As we talked and bargained, late model SUV’s trundled past, heading out of the neighborhood, their occupants staring at us as they passed. People said “thank you” and shook my hand. We exchanged names, neighborhood updates on traffic and congestion, and political commentary.
I probably gave away too much and priced lower than I could have. However, what I received in return for used goods that I no longer wanted was more than worthwhile. Said one man as we discussed the cushion-less couch in the mid-afternoon, “You understand; you have a good heart.” I truly got more out of my garage sale than profit.
As for the silver-plated serving pieces that started this process, on my wife’s advice, I swept them up into a box and sold them in bulk for a quick price to the purchaser of the dresser. I placed them in her car to be doubly sure she took them. There was a happy dance on the driveway when her car disappeared around the corner.
Having lived in David Duke’s home state of Louisiana for two years, I can tell you what he did today. He woke up and got to work, as he has done every day since he decided to spread his message. The man neither paused nor did he let defeat deflate his drive or let success give him pause through all these years. He may be cheering and celebrating today yet he was on the phone, posting online, and planning his programs, intent on his goal just as he has done every other day.
He is a racist, a bigot, and an anti-Semite but the First Amendment protects his right to spew his hatred.
What about you? What about me? Do you and I have the same depth of passion, but for justice and right? After all, fighting for climate change legislation is tough in a fossil fuel world. Explaining racial injustice and raising awareness of the economic injustices of energy policies to communities that do not want to hear facts and reason is a stubborn climb. Holding proudly to one’s faith in a cynical world can be a daily hurt. Are you still fighting?
This missive is not about the Neo-Nazis and the White Supremacists though. This message is about those who have the passion to fight for what is right, good, and godly, about those who stand up to the evil and hate. These people are our family, our friends, acquaintances, workmates and our members-in-faith.
One died and nineteen more lay wounded in the Charlottesville confrontation. Many, many more though, people of all colors, creeds and faiths, marched; they held the lines, and shouted down the hatred. Their passion brought them forth and their courage kept them going. The citizens of Charlottesville refused to accede to hatred, to acquiesce to murderous rage. Instead they welcomed those who hold beliefs of equality, justice, and freedom for all of God’s children. Together, they gave the voices of hatred no quarter and no measure of comfort to broadcast their message of intimidation and confrontation.
Evil only expands when it is allowed, when people of goodwill do not stand as a bulwark against the malicious tide. Silence, apathy and vacuum are tacit permissions to continue to fill the streets with hate-filled rhetoric. The streets of Charlottesville were not silent though and intimidation was met with spirited determination.
What about you? What about me? Are we going to sink into the sofa cushions or lean back into our computer chairs, and watch passively as a few good souls contest a contagious fear and paranoia? Whether the summons is the Hindu call of Gandhi, the Christian call of Martin Luther King Jr., or the beckoning of the ancient Israelite prophets, the universal demand of justice is broadcasting loud and clear across the land.
Will you and I answer the call? Shall we answer with unequivocal passion?
“Then I heard the voice of my God saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? Then I replied, ‘Here I am; send me.’” Isaiah 6:8
Here I am; send me.
George Washington Carver sitting with other professors at Tuskegee in 1904.
The wretched word of the week is ENTITLEMENT. Two gross examples of entitlement on parade this week from a pool of possibilities are the ongoing primary race of Donald Trump and the shooting massacre of eight people, two adults and six children thirteen and under, in Houston. The elements of character that have driven the candidate and the murderer to act are sadly much the same.
The Donald is entertaining is follow, like watching videos of car crashes in Russia where wary people keep dash cams running while driving. This was a man who declared part of his success in the 1990’s was business advice from his father never to sign contracts, letting someone else take the fall. He showed himself rapacious and repugnant, and proud of it. Many new and interesting business ventures later, Donald Trump is purchasing a slot in the Republican primary by running for president on his own dime. He is entitled to do so and only someone with a heavy dose of entitlement would. If he has to spend $50 per actor to fill the lobby when he makes his announcement that he was running, then that is how a businessman should market himself. It worked, did it not? A few thousand dollars got him the first slot at the first primary debate.
His behavior at the debate was outrageous. Among his accusations during and following the broadcast are these three: 1) Fox News is a propaganda machine. 2) The Republican Party apparatus is an elite national political mafia. 3) The other candidates are empty suits pandering to obtuse elements of the reactionary far-right of the political spectrum. He called out everyone involved with these accusations in one form or another. He did so with grand gestures of self-earned indignation and mega-millions infused entitlement.
In the same vein of self-earned indignation but without the money, David Conley took a gun and shot to death his ex-wife, her new husband, Conley’s son, and his ex-wife’s other five children, filling some of the bodies with multiple gunshots. This woman had embarrassed him by walking away and divorcing him. He was entitled to anything and everything that he wanted. When that woman who he owned by the vow of marriage repudiated his ownership, he killed her and his poisoned progeny who acquiesced to her way of thinking.
Mr. Conley was entitled to do with them as he chose because he owned them. They were his property no matter what the law or another man said. His lack and loss gave him permission to act with the most extreme violence, which he justified as his right and due. He was not a man who acted out impulsively or in the heat of the moment either. This act was the culmination of a steadily stoked, well-tended indignation blown out of all proportion. Keep in mind, Mr. Conley acted with due deliberation.
In literature, the villain is easily identifiable by an overarching trait of entitlement, a form of hubris. The difference between literature and real life is that in literature we find satisfaction when the villain is forced to capitulate and exit stage right. Unlike reality, authors, composers, and playwrights tidy up the ending or at least close it with finality, a fairytale we can all appreciate.
The aftermath of someone acting out their sense of entitlement is messy, inarticulate, and usually not resolved in any satisfying manner. Some people in Houston are going to walk through the excruciating exercise of burying an entire family. The news channels will be filled with bloviating bad hair and overheated repartee. Entitlement is one of the most destructive elements of the human character and as an element, appears to have risen to heightened precedence in American culture of late.
A little humility and self-responsibility would be a nice antidote. However, these sorts of headlines do not appear typically in the newspaper or among the aspiring presidential candidates at the debates. In the end we must re-impose the lesson that a good name can only be earned, it cannot be purchased or taken by force.