Wednesday, August 30, 2006

much and little

I've almost finished reading Betty Smith's classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and it's got me thinking about the ideas of much and little, plenty and poor. Set in Brooklyn in the early 1900s the book is the story of a family trying to get by and trying to get better. Katie firmly believes that education will be the salvation of her children but at the critical moment you can't eat books and school has to wait, children have to go to work. It's an interesting discussion of the idea of much. Francie, the heroine, talks of "the luxury of being rich enough to waste" and I couldn't help but see the modern parallel in that. It's so easy to see someone who has more and think that I have little, why it is harder to see those who have less and realize that I have so much?

There's a Duke Ellington classic that sings about "Ain't got the change of a nickel . . . I ain't got nothing but the blues." I've known days when money is tight but I've never gone to bed hungry. If all my life I've known a full stomach, surely that's proof of much. It should be enough proof and proof of enough. There's been a lot of coverage of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast this week and how they are faring a year after Katrina. Vivid images of little and much. There has been so much money promised, but it seems so little delivered into the hands that need it. I was reading on a New Orleans news site yesterday that FEMA is getting ready to cut off rent assistance. People's homes are still unlivable, where are they expected to go? Everything they owned is gone and now the corner they've huddled in for a year is threatened. How little can little get?

I was also thinking this week of a photograph I saw in May 2002 of babies who had been born in the months since their fathers were killed on September 11th. It struck me that all of those kids will be starting school in the next few days. They have homes and schools and hospitals but no fathers. I'm not sure if that's little or much. I suppose it's both.

I think that I tend to think of "much" as a relative term, more adjective than noun, useful only in comparison. But in reality, much is more of a certainty, more solid. Much is much. It's what's in my kitchen cupboards, even if I don't feel that it's what's in my bank account. Much is what's worth celebrating, it's what I have to share, it is the reality of what I have received. I hope the much, and not little, will prove to be the better description of what I've given away.


JAnie & DAve said...

Similar thoughts go through my head all the time. I always it interesting when the government says we are below the poverty line, yet i wouldn't consider myself poor at all. I do have a great capacity to forget the debt we have though. Even so, if i would like something new i can usualy buy it, if there is an activity i want to attend i can make it happen. We have most of the conveniences of modern life, and if we don't have it we have choosen to live without it.
I often think about the value of simplicity and how that has been lost to progress. Progress is great, but i believe it is more destructive to our earth, families and selfs than beneficial at raising people up. I think alot of the last title of Geeze magazine "the Lighter side of less" and living in voluntary simplicity. Now compared to stories and websites i have read on VS, i am not simple at all. But compared to the places i shop, some of the people i know, and the North American world around me, I AM LIVING SIMPLY and am very happy about this.
On the flip side i do hope to have more one day: a house, more children, more knowledge and skills, more friends, and more money to responsibly share.
Well those are my thoughts.

Side note: i am reading a maeve Binchy book and it is pretty "simple" (to be nice). I think i will have to start consulting you for more educated, interesting reads.
Take care Claire, and enjoy the MUCH you do have.
Love Janie

Beck's Bulletin said...

Loved reading this post! Especially I think because I have thought of this often over the past years....we have so much! yet the world considers it so little! But I have chosen to be content with old furniture(at least I have furniture), few toys(what good are they anyway since they break far too soon and are then expensive to fix)and the love of friends and family!!! Much to be thankful for and I am thankful!

JAnie & DAve said...

I was so interested by the Geez article about living on less. There was one article which noted that 1 Billion people in the world have an annual income of $10,000 or more. That means the other 5.5 billion live on less. That's a pretty serious majority. And that's a pretty decent gauge of just how much more we really have.

dr riptide said...

Hi Claire! That sounds like a good book. I'm interested in reading it sometime. On that topic, both of my parents have been an inspiration to me. I recall as a child how they would often buy groceries for other families, when we were struggling to get by ourselves. My mom always told me that whatever we give something away, it would come back ten-fold, in some form. The Lord only continues to bless them, so I'm thinking it's true. I hope, too, that I will follow in their exampe, that "the much, and not little, will prove the better description of what I've given away" when my life is reflected upon.

I hope all is well.