One of my brothers in Hawaii lowered the boom on us early this year. While visiting our mother in Honolulu at her apartment which doubles as a “parking” space for my brother’s numerous belongings, I asked if he had a belt and a couple of pants to spare for my sporting convenience. He is a Ralph Lauren, Hollywood Polo shop card-carrying customer, and being single, he is attire particular, as well as bid on lots of used fashion attire at auctions, so his collection is nothing to sneer at.
That was when he dropped the bomb: "When are you going to be self-sufficient."
Now, mind you, I am big in participatory democracy and efforts to wean dependency away from the clutches of entitlement, so self-sufficiency, and self-confidence, and self-reliance, is huge in our repertoire of stated developmental goals for individuals and social groups.
To be asked when we were going to follow our own mantra was thereby unsettling. I never really thought of myself as not being self-sufficient until I realized a dependency habit actually developed in our career and lifestyle.
For four decades, we were an ordained cleric with the United Methodist Church. The practice of tithe from old Judea supported Levites to perform symbolic functions of tribes, was carried over to Christendom where priesthood class relied on covenantal giving. The Reformation pastors put the support and benefits under the income side of the ledger, giving it a patina of financial stability, and that’s where we came on the wagon. We did not get hitched into the clerical collar for that purpose, but the methodical ways of Wesley’s followers in America deliberated a lot on the matter at various conference levels.
Coming from a country where, if one scratched a Protestante, you find a Mediterranean Catholic, my family did not quite make it over the hump of alms and charity in the old paroquia to the side of budgetary allocations in the parish. We were still beholden to the grace of charity. But my Dad’s remuneration where we were assigned, was more in-kind than cash, and though the rice, fish, meat, and saluyot were enough to keep flesh and bone together, it did not pay for books and tuition fee at school.
My Mom used to rise early in the morning to meet the fleet that came back from fishing so she could offer wholesale price to the weary fishers, get herself a sacksful of ice and tin containers, mix the lot and transport them 200 kms upriver the Rio de Cagayan in the valley. At destination, she would look up her suki (frequent customer) to unload her merchandize, get usually double her money, and then head back home. And that’s how the parson’s kids managed to annually get a new set of wardrobe on their birthdays.
Self-support was, thus, not a foreign concept in our house. What the offering plates were short at providing, my Mom’s old chutzpah delivered. Thus, by 6th grade, I was selling sticky rice goodies, delivering newspapers, and shining shoes.
Upon review of our lifestyle in recent years, it is true that we played off the po'boy image among siblings and loved ones, acting as if we had the right to utilize their means, either on request, or just on the older-sibling-grab that I might have overdone in the case of one of our brothers.
Thus, this year, we resolved not to live off (not too much, anyway) the means of kin and loved ones, willingly generous or otherwise, but more importantly, to live off our means. Having been an active party to the credit ethos of the American economy where we spent on the promise of possible future earnings, we contributed to the profits of financial institutions whose assets derive from the value of consumers’ borrowings.
We became fiscally conservative, not a personal trait usually practiced by a political liberal. That’s probably where our political dichotomy fails, for the real conservative understands that the baby (what works) need not be thrown with the bath water, nor, as this liberal does, should we cower with fear and fail to act on what is necessary just because one cannot see an immediate balance of the budget!
But, while a farewell to alms is personally in effect, a farewell to arms is not on the horizon anytime soon. "Arms" that we Americans extend to destabilize unfriendly regimes are not fading away. NoKor and China are favored targets. ABC’s rumor-mongering during the London Olympics that North Korea’s athletes head to labor camps if they fail to claim a medal, repeated in media, and the 15-year-old Chinese gold medal swimmer accused of being under the influence of drugs with no shred of evidence, are examples.
We read of U.S.-trained mercenary crossing over from Columbia into Venezuela with no evident intent other than foment dissension, and oriental Aoki of the Black Panthers who armed the brothers in their heyday is now fingered as an FBI informant on a hearsay. The length by which official arm extends to abuse and accuse, is endless.
We are sticking to our "arm" as the all-embracing care for the other, our life’s vocation, though now, we shall do so sans alms.