No More Meals On Wheels – When Lack Of Empathy Is A Preexisting Condition

The older I become, the more I reflect on my grandparents. Both my biological grandfathers and step-grandfather were veterans. One saw frequent combat in WWII as a member of a Black Widow Squadron. My father’s mother even served in the Navy in WWII while her brother sacrificed his life in battle in Europe.

All of my grandparents experienced firsthand the Great Depression. They saw Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Vietnam, and other social struggles.

They also knew about community.

When my MaMa married my PaPa in the late 1970’s both of them began new chapters in their lives. Having lost their spouses in the previous five years, they had a new shared lease on life and the means to live rather comfortably. My Papa had never had children, so when he married my grandmother he all of a sudden had a “ready-made” family complete with grandchildren and stubborn personalities.

And he got to finally impart lessons he had ready to teach on those younger than he.

MaMa and PaPa were devout people, but more than that, they were giving people. They donated time, money, and energy to causes they thought worthy.

One of those causes was Meals-On-Wheels.

measl on wheels

Every week they delivered meals to house bound, elderly people who often lived alone and in rather meager environments. They not only delivered the meals. They visited these people.

They knew names. They knew histories. They knew aches and pains. They knew of medical appointments. They were part of other people’s lives. They understood the importance of human interaction.

My visits with my grandparents did not yield a change in their schedules. They simply took me along with them on their daily routines which meant getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning, eating breakfast without electronics, doing chores, bowling with old people in PaPa’s league, eating dinner at 4 in the afternoon and doing service work like Meals-On-Wheels without question.

And listening to two older people talk about what it meant to have others help, especially PaPa.

I got to listen to a man talk about the past as if he waited his whole life for a kid like me to come along and listen.

As a nine-year-old until I was well into college, if I was visiting on a weekday that they were slated to deliver meals, I went with them. No questions asked.

I knew why they did it. My grandparents could care less about any notoriety or credit. It was a sense of community and the need to take care of others.

A life-long Republican, PaPa loved him some Ronald Reagan. He contributed to his campaigns. He said he felt safer with Reagan at the helm. He said he liked how Reagan did not talk badly about others around him. And if you grew up a country boy in rural Georgia, that was a sentiment felt by many. The older me does not look at Reagan as a beacon of economic prosperity for average Americans, but he did have a persona that was presidential and he did have a maxim about talking positively about others.

PaPa died a little over ten years ago. He saw his great granddaughter. He saw me get married to a woman he adored. And I remembered that one of the last things he said to me had to deal with Reagan and the administration that was currently in the White House and in Congress and how disappointed he was in them that they seemed so divided and neglectful of the average American.

In his beautifully blunt way of expressing himself, PaPa told me that “Reagan would slap the shit out of them.”

A picture of PaPa and MaMa is on my desk at home. I kept his bowling ball and use it on occasion rather badly. There are artifacts from him in my classroom because I like remembering him and things he taught me. There is a book about PaPa floating somewhere inside of me.

I thought of him last night when I saw this. The New York Times released a report that outlined the budget proposal of the Trump administration (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/us/politics/budget-epa-state-department-cuts.html). It stated,

“In addition to the cuts at the E.P.A. and the State Department, Mr. Trump’s team is expected to propose a wide array of cuts to public education, to transportation programs like Amtrak and to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the complete elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.”

With the appointment of Betsy DeVos, cuts to public education were not surprising, but I could hear my PaPa roll in his grave when I read about the possible elimination of the Meals on Wheels program.

My PaPa would be the first to tell someone that he/she needed to do everything he/she could for him/herself before expecting someone to help. He would have agreed with the old Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

But he would also be the first to say, “Don’t pollute that man’s waters.”

He would also say, “If the man can’t hold his own fishing pole, then do it for him because we take care of each other.”

PaPa had something that I don’t think Trump has – empathy. He knew what it was like. He never forgot was loss was like. He never forgot mercy. He never forgot loving others.

That’s why he did the Meals on Wheels program, even helping people who were younger than he was.

And I know exactly what PaPa would have said last night if he read the same report and saw Trump on television at a rally for himself in Tennessee.

“A president who has to have a rally to validate himself while hurting good people is a man who does not love others well.”

And then he would say,

“Reagan would slap the shit out of him.”

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