There is one special thing the Christmas season is good for. The season takes off our blinders so we can see the true state of the human condition. We tend to not see what could disrupt our vision of the world and ourselves. Christmas opens our eyes to the full radius of sight rather than our normal narrow view.
For example, how many of us -- I certainly include myself -- think about hunger at times of the year other than Thanksgiving and Christmas? Hunger, in the richest nation on Earth, does not compute with the opinion we have of ourselves, so we ignore it. Fortunately, there are dedicated people, God bless ’em, who deal with hunger every day. We have a food bank that doles out millions of pounds of food annually, but for most of us, the hungry are out of sight and out of mind -- except of course -- during the holidays.
At other times of the year we don’t seem surprised (because we aren’t) when thousands of people show up at DFACS to apply for aid. We calmly brush it off. We use what Sigmund Freud called “memory suppression.” We block out things that are unpleasant. And it’s very unpleasant to see long lines of Bibb County residents start to form at 1:30 a.m. in below freezing temperatures seeking energy assistance. Our blinders disappear. For a moment we see the anguish others feel. For a moment, however brief, our empathy shows up and we want to help.
What do these scenes of long lines of people seeking assistance say about us; that so many people are teetering on the lower rung of life they have to seek help with basic necessities?
Sometimes we comfort ourselves by believing the tripe that these people are all lazy, good-for-nothings, looking for a handout. We seek examples to back up our opinions, such as the woman who was pictured in Thursday’s newspaper. She was denied assistance and she was none too happy about it, but in the background was a very large screen TV and a popular game console. Suddenly, this picture suits our mind’s view of the world. “These people are all like that” we think. We know this of course, even though we’ve never run the gauntlet that awaits anyone who applies for assistance.
We all have a bootstrap story. You know the kind of tale that validates our existence. My mother worked hard all her life and I lacked for nothing. But as a child, I didn’t understand the shenanigans she pulled to keep a roof over our heads. To this day, I can’t say for sure why I attended seven elementary schools and how we move about every year. I can’t say why my mother was constantly running out of gas either going to or from work. I don’t know why she caught the bus to work when we lived in Watts. She only purchased one brand new car in her lifetime and that was long after I was grown. Somehow, she made it work. I’m pretty confident the majority of folks out there seeking help are hard working. But if it was tough for my mother in the ’50s and ’60s, you know it’s tough today. Back then there were manufacturing companies turning out all sorts of products. If you got on at one of these firms you had it made. Now those firms have either bit the dust or you would need a passport to seek a job there today.
I think of my mom every morning. I see a woman walking down First Street on her way to work at about 5:30 a.m. It doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or freezing cold, she’s trudging on. I’d stop to give her a ride, but she would probably shoot me. There are not many people at that hour of the morning you can trust.
A block away from the county jail there is a day labor office where men start arriving a little after 5 a.m. They are not seeking a handout. They are looking to find work for the day. They, contrary to the popular opinion, are not lazy. They want to work, but, if you haven’t heard, jobs are hard to come by.
With our blinders on we can dismiss those we assume are unsavory and we can blame them for their plight, too. They obviously didn’t do what’s necessary to have a good job with health benefits, etc., etc. But is that reality? It’s hard to keep our blinders on during the Christmas season. Now, the only trick is keeping them off the rest of the year.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Charles E. Richardson is The Macon Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.