Lighting a Candle

“Times was hard…” I’ve heard old people use those words to describe the Great Depression. I used to wonder at what they meant, but now I know. Hard times means giving thanks for things that really matter because there aren’t a lot of other distractions. Hard times means relying more on God and His blessing than anything else. Hard times means humility and quiet dignity.

I’m not saying I’ve had a bad year: not at all. But I’ve seen years for lots of people, good and bad, and there were a lot of bad years out there. I know a lot of people trapped in a part-time job with no benefits and I realize I’ve got maybe one of the last full-time jobs in America. I’ve got the pay and vacation time that goes with it, so I’m thankful for that.

I see people avoiding the doctor and home repairmen alike: there’s no telling what will need fixing, once the wall is opened up. I’m in that area. I’ve got old pipes in my house and if the plumbing job ain’t simple, then I have to ask if I can afford a complete bathroom renovation. We can’t, so I just brush my teeth in the kitchen. We can’t afford that renovation in part due to the way we afforded my oldest daughter’s appendix renovation a while back. Still paying for that one, after we discovered that our insurance was worthless. We’d been had, but at least we’re able to pay down those bills. I’m thankful for that.

I suppose I could walk away from my mortgage and default on my credit cards, but, deep down, I’m not rich enough to do that. If I had no way of paying them back, I’d default, but as long as I can pay – no matter what I may think about the man at the other end of the interest rate – I’ll pay. I’m thankful for that. I can’t be like the rich man that can afford to pay for things, but finds a way to default either through a legal maneuver or just flat-out cruelty. I once wondered what it would be like to be tempted by riches. Now I know it’s a temptation I don’t want in my life. As long as I have enough to live on, I’ll be thankful for that and any little bits of something else that come along. But riches? No. I’m thankful that I don’t have the riches that would blind me to what is important.

Am I thankful for my nation, The United States of America? Well… let me answer that by saying that when I look around at what’s going to sustain me when I’m old, I see my family, my church, and my own two hands. I don’t see the US Government in that picture, not when I’m old. I suppose hard times are here for a good, long while. They’ve always been with us, really. The hard times of the 30s made us want to borrow from the future to support the people of the present, but that doesn’t seem so possible, anymore. Well, then, I’m still thankful for the old USA. If nothing else, it incubated the church I belong to – before it persecuted it terribly – but anywhere else would have either destroyed the nascent Latter-day Saint movement or forced a Second Coming to save it, and the time was not yet right for our Savior’s return for that to happen.

I have ancestors that built and walked away from 20 complete homes in their lifetimes, each time starting over with a tent. I live in the same place I’ve lived for 20 years and even though the place needs some work, it’s a stable home that’s warm in the winter and cool in the summers. My food is refrigerated and the Internet provides me with plenty of fun so I don’t go insane from listening to the prairie wind at nights. For that, I’m thankful.

I remember one ancestor of mine, my great-great-grandfather, Edward Milo Webb, Jr.. After he fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution, he ended up in Tucson, Arizona. He got a job pulling up mesquite tree stumps. He was in his sixties, pulling up mesquite stumps in the heat of the Tucson summer. He lived in a tent that first year. While I have hassles in my job, I’m nevertheless thankful for it and, no, I would not want to trade places with my great-great-grandfather.

I’ve met men who escaped the terrors of the Khmer Rouge murderers. I’ve taught children that were born in sniper-targeted hospitals in Sarajevo. I’ve seen the faces of people that won’t say a word about the horrors they knew back in Sierra Leone, Liberia, or Darfur. They knew some hard times to beat all. The fortunes of my life didn’t have me sharing those experiences, but my path crossed theirs at some point. Because of that, I want to be a source of hope. I’m thankful that I have reservoirs of hope, sufficient to share.

My hope is not in the triumph of a grand ideology or nation-state or economic philosophy. My hope is in the ability of man to be most compassionate and loving when in the humblest of circumstances. We are greatest when we share what we have, so that there are no poor among us. I still remember the report I once saw of a Haitian village where the people were so poor, they ate cakes made of butter, salt, and dirt. One of the families there purchased a can of beans. And what did they do with those precious calories and grams of protein? They invited over their neighbors, each to share one spoonful of the beans.

That same spirit is in each one of us, if we choose not to extinguish it.

Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house; therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. – Jesus of Nazareth

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