This I Believe
I believe in human dignity and that it’s achieved, in part, by the manner in which our needs are met. Never mind net worth. Some of the most-dignified people I’ve known are poor, while some of the least dignified the wealthiest. This distinction is never clearer to me than as I bid good riddance to The Holidays.
Beyond basics like food and shelter, we need safety, affection, friendship . . . There’s a need for revenge or a need to forgive, the need to believe in a god, or to believe there’s no god at all . . . I remember an early need, to believe in St. Nick when, on a Christmas morning at age six, I turned against Santa for his heartlessness.
My family of four lived in a one-bedroom basement apartment while a friend, LuAnn, shared a large house with her parents and numerous siblings. My child’s eyes didn’t see the peeling paint or LuAnn’s faded clothes. I thought she was rich because her house and family were so big. My mother worked at the local “Five-And Dime,” while LuAnn’s mother got to stay at home. Besides, LuAnn had enviable blonde hair and blue eyes.
That Christmas morning, my sister and I awoke to a living room brimming with toys and new clothes. There were several dolls apiece and joint ownership of a small table with chairs, a cupboard, a tea set, and a doll-sized baby’s bath, a “Bathinette.” Because I believed in Santa, I didn’t know Mother chose to work at the Five-and-Dime so she could satisfy her need for extreme visits from Santa via lay-away payments–all year long.
It was still morning when LuAnn came to show me what Santa left under her tree, a little sock doll. Her blue eyes scanned my plunder, tears spilling onto her cheeks as she looked into my eyes and asked, “That dolly Bathinette is the only thing I asked from Santa and he left it for you?”
I never liked Santa or Christmas again, though when my three children were young, Santa visited them, too. It was their fathers’ choice, not mine. But those children are long grown and many years ago I opted out of America’s Holiday frenzy. It’s partly because from the first note of Christmas muzak blaring in over-stocked stores, though decades later, I’m still revisited by LuAnn’s sad eyes. It’s not that I begrudge others their holidays or resent retail merchants their annual big gulp. But I think dignity is lost to our privileged society when some are given far more than they need while others have nothing.
Christmas 2006 seemed especially undignified. Amid a mounting death toll in Iraq, the unending tragedy of Katrina, countless human lives lost to hunger and disease all over our planet . . .a heated debate over whether to say, “Merry Christmas,” or, “Happy Holidays,” seemed remarkably obscene. Besides, there were LuAnn’s sad blue eyes.
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