Reaping What We Sow

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Galatians 6:7

Today marks about a month spent navigating between two polar worlds of responsibility as I approach 60 in a few years.

My two grandchildren live with me and I often provide care for them. I also now visit my mother every day as she recovers from a stroke in a rehabilitation facility where my father died just over two weeks ago.

My three-year-old granddaughter and mother, in fact, are sharing a similar journey with language — uttering smalls bursts of distinguishable speech among strings of mostly gibberish.

Watching my father’s declining health and death along side my mother’s unexpected stroke and painstaking recovery, I have experienced more directly what I have known most of my adult life: medical insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are frail and inadequate sources for basic human dignity.

But these realities are shared daily by millions of people discarded in the U.S. where we simply have no interest in being a Christian nation or a charitable people. No, we prefer Social Darwinism and burying our heads in the sands of the free market and consumerism.

“Consumerism,” in fact, is the perfect and disturbing metaphor for our self-defeating beliefs and practices.

And that brings me to the ugly facts I have been confronting about my parents for nearly four decades.

My white working-class Southern parents are the poster children for the manufactured angry white working-class voters accused of electing Trump [1].

I grew up in a home aspiring to the American Dream of middle-class materialism, and my parents mostly worked themselves to death to cobble together that illusion.

Hand-in-hand with my parents being whitewashed model Americans was their unbridled racism, unquestioned self-loathing of their impoverished/working-class heritage, jumbled conservatism, and lifelong voting as Republicans.

As I watched my father die and patiently encourage my mother climbing out of the dark hole of her stroke, I have often thought that they certainly deserve so much better than what the end of their lives has brought.

But I also recognize that they were both willing and eager agents in their own misfortune — so damned inspired by racism and fear that some poor person might receive something without working that they cut off their own noses to spite their faces.

The acidic irony in all this is that my parents, especially my father, imprinted on me a manic work ethic grounded in the unspoken bromide “we reap what we sow.”

Work hard and you are rewarded, my parents believed, but half-ass and you will suffer.

The inverse message, the very ugly inverse message, of course, is the false conclusion that those who suffer and fail deserve the suffering and failure due to their sloth.

If we could somehow recreate Our Town so that my 20- or 30-something father could have watched his last days sitting beside my disabled mother, would he have reconsidered his life and what he believed?

But even that isn’t the solution, of course.

To know that what you do and believe has consequences for yourselfignores that we lack in the U.S. any sort of compassion for others, especially others we perceive as unlike us.

We don’t even believe in or practice a belief that all children are innocent, deserving safe and healthy lives that provide them opportunities at the promises the U.S. pretends to embrace — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The paradox of my life is that my parents gave me incredible advantages and a loving idyllic childhood — a childhood abruptly marred as I worked through my teen years and entered college, resulting in my rejecting virtually everything my parents believed.

I certainly do not cling to some delusion that cosmic justice exists for the righteous and the careless.

I also know that social equity and justice are almost entirely rhetoric of the privileged to maintain their privilege.

None the less, I want to believe that my parents deserve better than what they have reaped, regardless of the seeds they planted.

That basic human dignity is not merely something we have to earn by being faithful workers or unquestioning patriots or cooperative citizens.

I want to believe that we should chose to extend compassion, kindness, and material comfort even to those who have spent their lives denying that to others.

Be the kindness and charity you want to find in others.

I sat with my mother yesterday as she rambled on — I eventually figured out — about her therapy, which is frustrating her. She is terrified and confused about having lost the ability to talk, convinced she will never regain the words.

My nephews and I have explained to her repeatedly that she had a stroke from a blood clot, but she keeps thinking she had a tumor.

The words that did come out as she waved her hands wildly gesturing through the therapy were “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

It sounded like my granddaughter’s misguided “I’m sorry” when she fears she has done something wrong, but hasn’t.

“Mom, you’re not dumb,” I said at her smiling and shaking her head. “You just have to relearn everything you have lost.”

What else, I wonder, is a son to do?