|from Songs of Innocence and Experience - William Blake|
The grateful heart sits at a continuous feast.
So, every now and then, in the interest of being "open-minded," I click on to a few conservative blog sites. You know -- see what The Other is up to. These aren't sites that are well-known or well-trafficked, nor are they sites that have anything of interest other than conservative politics. There are no pretty photos or funny stories about children. There's almost never an inspirational story or even quote. There's absolutely no poetry. Occasionally, I'll leave a comment but generally what I have to say is not well-received, so I read and then move on. One blog, in particular, written by a Texan female lawyer is pithy and educational, but nearly everything she writes is completely and utterly antithetical to my own point of view. She is a good writer, witty and not a little mean-spirited sometimes, so I only check out her blog every few weeks to see what she's been up to. This morning I paid a visit and read a whole post about the recent riots in London, what they mean as far as the "welfare state" goes and how some of the same stuff is evidently going on in our country without the media exposure.
What stuck out for me was this notion (and she's not alone in pointing it out, obviously) that it's somehow shameful to accept help from the government. This notion lies at the core of American individualism and work ethic, I think, and I'm not sure what I feel about it. On the one hand, I'm as American as the next person, the grandchild of Italian and Syrian immigrants who worked their asses off to "get ahead." My own parents grew up very poor in New York City and aren't nearly as "educated" as I -- sheer hard work enabled them to give me a privileged life. Because of those privileges, I went to college and had opportunities beyond what they, at my age, had probably only dreamed about. The notion of "hand-outs" was frowned upon, if not vilified by nearly all my relatives, and I think I still carry a bit of that around with me. Lawyer Mom points out and quotes from several sources that claim that those who receive government assistance generally only "bite the hand that feeds them," and that those who accept welfare should "be grateful and embarrassed."
Here are two quotes that stand out:
On the subject of handouts, Instapundit linked to a bold blogger who wrote, "I have no issue with a social safety net. I just think the beneficiaries of this net should be grateful and embarrassed." But hold your fire.
He wrote about his grandfather during the Depression, how he would come home exhausted after working all day for the WPA. He was ashamed he needed help from the government and he wanted to give the taxpayers a fair day's work for his wage.
But what Whittle most pointedly assails is that no one on public assistance ever thanks the taxpayers who support them.
This post has given me much to think about, ponder. It both attracts me in a curious way and repels me like a roadside accident. It raises the hairs on the back of my neck -- partly out of indignation and partly out of recognition. I'd say that I'm exquisitely aware of my own mental projections -- does it bother me precisely because I agree with parts of it? Does it bother me because it repels me? Does it repel me because I agree with it? Are my instincts that veer more toward Christian charity than American capitalism under fire?
I'm not sure.
I recently "won" a case -- or Sophie "won" a case -- that gives us a generous amount of money to help care for her, day to day. The program is called In Home Supportive Services, a government "entitlement" that enables the disabled and elderly to stay in their homes with providers rather than in an institution. Like everything else in this country (and world, perhaps), the care of people with disabilities is quantified -- and it was determined that it's cheaper to take care of these people in their homes (it works out nicely, too, that people are generally happier in their homes). In any case, the burden lies on the disabled and their families to defend this "welfare" by pointing out that it's nearly impossible to hold down a job when one is taking care of a child with severe disabilities; therefore, one can't be a productive member of society. As Sophie's provider, I am now paid a small amount per hour (definitely not a living wage) so that I can keep her at home.
I am profoundly thankful for this money -- so thankful that when I opened the envelope with the judge's orders to grant it, I cried. Hard. The help is life-changing for everyone in my family. But I've been embarrassed to write about this -- embarrassed because I know that there are many folks out there far more needy than I am and that I am, perhaps, using what might be theirs. I feel apologetic -- defensive -- and I understand the roots of that defensiveness to be what I imagine are the roots, or the core of what it means to be an American. But then I wonder if this "core" isn't, at worst, rotten -- rotten because it presupposes us all to be individuals, hardly connected to one another and certainly not responsible for one another.
Having a disabled child and witnessing the problems and heartache of the most vulnerable in our culture has changed me, revealed a different instinct and underlined my own vulnerability and -- dare I say it -- need for help.
It seems that my "core" and my instinct are at odds.
I'm interested to hear what you think.