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Mismatched furniture (10/01/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Two words from yesteryear seem to be monopolizing my train of thought as I helplessly view and hear reports about tragedy and loss caused by recent natural disasters. Those words will come later.

It's full of irony - these faces of every nationality and skin color, regardless of their financial status and standing in society, all crying for the same needs, the bare necessities of life, side by side.

We see their pleading faces, twisted in agony, heartache, and confusion. It primarily comes down to the absence of family members, missing, misplaced, or gone. All are burdened with the same pain and bewilderment.

People from all walks of life and every race, from near and far, also side by side, have reached out in so many ways. Despite a few rotten apples, looting and scamming money to lace greedy pockets, others have given hope and comfort to those hit hard by fate. Those who give the widow's mite are richly blessed.

As these tragedies unfold, has anyone witnessed ungrateful attitudes toward those who have come to help them? We see their relieved and grateful faces on TV and in newspapers, and nobody won the lottery! They aren't passing out classy cars. Luxury items aren't being retrieved from those semis and vans.

No signs of discrimination are evident as donations are handed out. Credit cards mean nothing there. Portions of food and medical care are distributed equally and according to need. Regardless of a home's monetary value, most who were caught in the path of Katrina and Rita lost "everything."

Individual worlds which were once secure spin on a common latitude, the affluent alongside the poverty-stricken, all in the same boat for an undetermined span of time.

We didn't hear someone whining because their shirt and pants are hand-me-downs and don't match. No one who was finally given food complained about the menu.

Clean water is gratefully favored over the finest wine. A blanket or cot is immediate luxury. The color of the hand that wiped a creased brow or bandaged an open wound was not an issue.

As CNN rolled the glum footage this morning, those two words, outdated and obsolete, came to haunt me again...so different from popular tendencies and pursuits to "have it all," any way, as soon as possible.

In the new millennium most people are impressed by how much others possess. I grinned with images conjured from my childhood home in Lewiston, a simple time when those in small communities and residing on family homesteads and farms were perfectly content to "MAKE DO." Values, pride, and respect were family valuables most cherished.

There is no shame in living with mismatched furniture, bare light bulbs, yellowing wallpaper, curtains washed thin, tattered bedding, and a conglomeration of everyday dishes and cookware, chipped and dented.

Dad thoughtfully budgeted his meager salary as a butcher, providing a comfortable and satisfying upbringing for us Lewis kids.

It was no hardship to make do - with a wringer washing machine, one telephone, pet goldfish, babysitting jobs, a 25-cent weekly allowance, and hand-me-downs from cousin Joanne in Washington.

It wasn't a hardship to make do - considering an abundance of love, faith in God, a harmonious family life, spam and baked bean picnics, cracked linoleum, darned socks, a fuzzy television, and leftovers. Too bad those laid back, low-stress and frugal ways don't seem to be where it's at.

Tragedies bring out the worst and the best in folks. When the chips are down, and storms peter out, life becomes the most treasured commodity. There may even be enough humility and thankfulness to go around.

Be well. 


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