What Would Mary Do?
by Pat LaMarche
The Black Friday numbers came in a week or so ago. Shopping’s down, spending’s down and the per capita expenditures are down. Retail spin-doctors cite a whole host of reasons the numbers might be headed south. Nestled in among the, “Gee Virginia, don’t depend on Santa Claus,” rallying cries is the supposition that it might just be because — according to the National Retail Federation — “consumers report they expect to have tight budgets this year, despite a recovering economy.”
Tight budgets? I’ll say.
An April 2013, My Budget 360 report entitled, “US Household income continues to fall in midst of recovery,” states that over the past five years or “since the recession started, household income is down 7.3 percent.” And the cost of living over the same period went up about the same. Heck, according to Bloomberg News, the cost of living went up 2.3 percentin 2012 alone. So as resources get ever dearer and purchases outstrip consumers’ grasp, it’s likely more and more people in the United States will find it difficult to play Santa at all this year.
That brings me to a story about a mom at Christmas time. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call her “Mary.” Mary has a daughter — and seeing as it’s the 21st century and gender specific names are so passé — let’s call her daughter Jesus.
Just like her namesake, our mother Mary used to be homeless. While never having lived in a barn with a manger, Mary has lived in fleabag hotels and a couple of homeless shelters. One of the shelters that brought Mary and Jesus in off the street got suspicious that Mary had a mental illness. It’s not surprising. Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln had mental illnesses too. Lots of people do.
The treatment Mary got for her illness included a prescription that helped her cope with the challenges she and her daughter faced. Then the feds kicked in and helped even more. Because of her diagnosis and treatment, Mary qualified for housing through a program that paid her rent as long as she took her medicine and saw her doctors regularly. Mary and Jesus got a home.
You know the rest. Politics changed and an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sponsored governor got elected in Mary’s state. Medicaid moneys were cut and Mary lost access to her healthcare and consequently the funding for her housing. According to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, a child becomes homeless every two minutes. Ho hum, too bad for Jesus. Oh, and too bad for the other two million or so homeless kids.
Mary called me the other day. Quite upset, she needed my help. It’s easier to upset Mary ever since she lost access to her doctors and her medicines. But this time she had a lot to be upset about. With everything that had gone wrong lately, Mary wanted Jesus to have a nice Christmas. Mary — admittedly not on her “A” game without her meds — walked into a department store and walked out again with a few gifts for Jesus. No frankincense or myrrh mind you, but a bobble or two that was gold… filled.
Now Mary’s in trouble.
In her state the value of the stolen items — $20 — makes Mary’s crime a misdemeanor. Still, she has to go to court and she’s deathly afraid that Jesus will find out what happened and lose faith in her mom.
Obviously, Mary should never have stolen anything. But, part of me wishes she had just stolen the psych meds she needs to be healthy and capable again.
Poor families can’t forget that Christmas — or any winter holiday — is for children. But for tens of millions of U.S. children living in ever deepening poverty, there’s literally no way for their parents to get them gifts without going to unenviable extremes.
So as Congress crafts their budget at this otherwise joyous time of year, I can think of only one quotation that suits this season of gift giving mingled with stealing. And no, it’s not by Charles Dickens, or even by Jesus Christ. it’s by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Here, Pres. Eisenhower puts thievery in its proper perspective. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
And really, isn’t it all about the children?
Pat LaMarche has extensive experience working with the nation’s poor, most recently as Vice President of Community Affairs at Safe Harbour, Inc. As a former journalist and award-winning broadcaster, LaMarche spent more than two decades studying and reporting on poverty issues both in the U.S. and abroad. During her 2004 Green Party Campaign for U.S. Vice President, she took to the streets to uncover the lives of the homeless in what she called the “Left Out Tour,” resulting in the book Left Out in America: The State of Homelessness in the United States (2006). Among other venues for her work, LaMarche is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.