Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Watching all those holiday shoppers lined up in the pre-dawn hours just itching to consume the credit burning holes in their budgets the day after Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but wonder if Americans learned any valuable lessons after September 11.
That horrific day, when thousands of our loved ones, neighbors, co-workers and friends fell victim to fanatical terrorists, was supposedly a wake-up call. It supposedly altered our priorities and changed our carefree, consumerism forever. But did it really?
I long for a more meaningful holiday season, especially in light of all that’s happened. One filled with lots of family, friends, food and love.
Do you really need a DVD player? Does your child really need another video destroyer game? Instead of spending our recession dollars on gifts we don’t really need, why not spend our renewed spirits on those who really need us?
Go on and give to the gills, but give of yourself. Go ahead and shop till you drop, but buy some things for those who have not the basic necessities of life, like food, shelter or warm clothing.
I know that God has “brought me this far by faith.” I also know that “faith without works” is just half-stepping.
Does not your “cup runneth over,” like mine? Then let’s show our gratefulness by giving generously.
There exists no shortage of social service providers in this hard-hit area who have been overwhelmed by the influx of folks. Not only those who lost their jobs or their loved ones on September 11, but before and after.
Many of these organizations are hurting for dollars and helping hands to make their mission, since so many donations were diverted to the attack victims.
What these social-service providers really need besides handy volunteers in holiday food lines are good old greenbacks, along with cans of greens to feed the multitudes of folks on Christmas and the remaining 364 days a year.
Did you know that one-fourth of our area children go to bed hungry, according to the Capital Area Community Food Bank? Or that 30 percent of the people it serves do not have a stove on which to cook? Can you imagine that in this high-tech, high-income region that the area food bank served 800,000 meals a month this time last year?
The D.C. Central Kitchen, Martha’s Table, the Carpenter’s Shelter can surely attest that they haven’t seen such an increase in those numbers that they’ve had in recent weeks since the recession a decade ago.
If you’ve ever served in a food line, you come to understand very quickly that it’s not so much the food that puts a smile on the face of the grateful recipient as it is whatever kind or humorous words you serve up with the greens and mashed potatoes. And the giver becomes the receiver, too.
“Be grateful for your lessons learned in poverty [or in trauma, my words]. For he is not poor who has little; only he that desires much true security lies not in the things one has, but in the things one can do without.” That appropriate aphorism comes courtesy of Og Mandino, inspirational author of “The Greatest Miracle in the World.”
It is quite a miracle that many of us are still standing. Many didn’t make it to this holiday season. Terrorists attacks, war, tornadoes, hurricanes, plane crashes, illness and poverty have certainly taken their toll in the first year of this new century.
How many of us have thought even more since September 11 that “there but for the grace of God go I?”
I was hopeful for weeks that a renewed sense of unity would prove to be the silver lining amidst all the mayhem and madness that would magically transform Americans into a nation of givers instead of gimme and getters. Will that hope be short-lived?
The rush to snatch up all the spinoff products Warner Bros. can manufacture to promote Harry Potterism, for example, is not a good omen. This maddening consumerism cheapens the allegorical messages the mothering author initially intended.
Again, we fail our children by teaching them that acquiring these pricey things is more important than adopting these priceless themes.
On a more suspicious note, I’m beginning to be more than a little put off by the number of companies that appear to be capitalizing on our renewed sense of patriotism for sheer profit.
Granted, I still have a tattered red, white and blue ribbon hanging on to my car antenna. But everywhere you turn, you can purchase all manner of items from useful flags to useless underwear bearing Old Glory’s colors. Let’s face it: Some of it is just junk.
Sorry, but I don’t buy into this notion that to spend money madly is a show of patriotism. Yes, we need to get back to living, but we must seize upon these more meaningful moments and live more wisely.
If we really want to show what we’ve learned about how much we’ve changed since that fateful September day, we’ll put our American spirit of camaraderie and community ahead of consumerism this holiday season.
Adrienne T. Washington’s e-mail address is atwashin@aol.com.

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