Haves and Have-nots – within our families

By Jean Mavrelis - 01.06.2014

Families are often a microcosm of global politics: the haves and the have-nots.

Rigoberto Menchu describes a Mayan ritual (in her book, I, Rogoberto Menchu) where at baptism, a baby’s hands are tied together to symbolize that no one takes more than they need until everyone has some.

Wouldn’t it be something if we could make that happen across the globe?  This morning the front page of the New York Times had a haunting image of a malnourished Afghan baby with the weezened face of an older person.

Who among us wouldn’t trade everything under that Christmas tree or Hannukah bush to feed that child?  But how?

Who said, “Charity begins at home?” My Dad’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, and they had 8 kids.   The family grew up above a barn in the early years.   Dad always advised, “Take care of the family first”. I’ve taken that to heart.  I suppose I also believe, “to each according to their need”.  But sometimes taking care of family members encourages dependency.  Where is that line?  When are you helping, and when are you undermining self- reliance?  Nobody wants to be used.

My Irish Catholic mother said her Father would always give something to anyone who asked.  Any charity that came in the mail, he’d at least give a couple of bucks.  “Poppa” said, “If they’re asking, they must need it.”  My mother, although living off social security checks, once handed a $20 bill to a woman begging in the parking lot.  (Then I would cover the debit at the end of the month).

Some family members are have-nots.  And some of those have-nots are pretty “f—–“ up.  Some suffer addiction, others have been in and out of prison, still others suffer with health issues.   Some are just struggling to make ends meet.  And then there are the rich ones.  In some families, the rich may even be loaded.  A friend of mine was complaining that a rich relative tried to barter for her artwork, offering an oil change for a painting.  Ouch.

The season of giving challenges all of us, especially when we shell out a lot of dough on silly gifts no one will remember.   Every year I plan to make wiser choices for giving.  Maybe next year…