Op-ed column: ’Tis the season to hunker down

For those struggling to keep their heads above the dark waters, poor is not the right word. For they

Categories: Opinion

Times are hard, outside that rarefied circle of finance. Food banks have never been busier — an 11 percent increase in need. Locally, that means an extra 425 trailer loads of food, most often given to working folks, working part time, full time, for minimum wage, any time, for as many hours as they can find.

More parents than ever are counting on local charities to help them put a couple of gifts under the tree. Christmas lights will be dimmer, for Rudolph’s batteries are weak and replacements have yet to be found.

Those that “have” seem to be enjoying it. Those that “have not” can only stare wistfully into “the have’s’” well-lighted windows showing warmth and plenty, although the $300 bottles of champagne are being poured a bit more discreetly this year. And for fewer celebrants, since in the aftermath of the exposure and loss of faith in the fraudulent mortgage market, those working on Wall Street have been pruned as well.

But those who remain are still comfortable, so comfortable we hear that end-of-year bonuses for 2010 will almost equal the boom years — at least for them.

Much attention has been paid in the past two years to the health and well-being of our money managers. Not so much to those who depend on their ethics, their responsible expertise.

Hanging on

For those who had no voice in the matter, all they can do is what they’ve always done — hunker down and hang on to what remains. Celebrate what is possible. Leave anger and despair at the door. For the kids deserve Christmas, even if the spirit is flickering and its bounty poor.

Trees are sold for a song on Christmas Eve. The kids can make paper chains and string popcorn. Maybe Mom can run up some nightgowns and pajamas from red flannel. Maybe Dad is handy with tools, and can turn out doll beds, wooden boats and airplanes.

The older kids are more of a problem. Some their age will get iPhones and BlackBerrys. It’s hard to make those at home. Perhaps a picture cut from a magazine and posted to cardboard, given with fierce love and faint hope will have to do. Love for one’s kids does not diminish along with dwindling income.

Family values may flourish as some folks will be doubling up after foreclosure, seeing more of each other than usual, possibly more than they truly desire. But at least there will be no shortage of company circulating about the wassail bowl. Christmas lights strung along Main Street, store decorations in windows are free. Gazing into all that abundance, recalling old visions and dreams may be hard.

Poverty is not for the faint-hearted. Homelessness is just as cold on Christmas Eve. Churches and charitable organizations will welcome the needy: feed them, pray for them, give them old clothes, but there are 364 other days to live through in a year.

Finding courage

The meek may inherit the earth, at least what is left of it. In the meantime, carry on with the necessary business of life: food, clothing, shelter. Christmas is an add-on, not really vital. Not unless you value love, need the comfort of family, need heartening to gather the courage to continue that comes from support and respect.

For those struggling to keep their heads above the dark waters, poor is not the right word. For they are not poor in all respects. Certainly not in spirit, for they are the ones to give birth in the stable. And then start fixing it up.

They are the world’s weary, the world’s weathered. The world’s warriors. Wish joy to their world. And tidings of relief.

Barbara DeMille lives in Rensselaerville.

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