Three of us were eating breakfast at the Cafe 23 on a warm morning.
“Looks like a fruit salad, Sam,” Duane said. “Kind of different from your usual breakfast, isn’t it?”
“It’s something cool for a hot summer day.” Sam speared a green melon ball with his fork.
“I’m all for keeping cool, but I’ve got a potentially hot topic for discussion this morning, I chimed in. “I read an article by Barbara Ehrenreich saying that some people are committing suicide because they can’t handle the economic downturn. Did you hear the story about the lady in Massachusetts who killed herself with her husband’s rifle just hours before her house was to be auctioned off?”
“I guess I missed that one. Anyway,who’s Barbara What’s-her-name?” Duane asked.
“Barbara Ehrenreich is an author who has written more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed, which is really worth the read,” I said. “She writes numerous magazine articles as well.”
Duane finished painting his toast dark red with strawberry jelly and lifted his juice glass. “Wow, I didn’t know things were getting that drastic that people would kill themselves.”
“At least there will be less scum in the gene pool,” Sam said.
Duane nearly choked on his orange juice. “What? You’re kidding. That’s pretty heartless, Sam.”
“Perhaps,” Sam replied, “but it’s a heartless world we’re living in, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but, come on,” Duane said. “These poor people are in bad shape. I mean, they must be if they’re so desperate they’ll kill themselves.”
I started to say something, but Sam held up his hand to stop me. “Look,” he said. “I happened to read the same article John is referring to, and we need to put a couple things in perspective.”
“I should have guessed you’d have words of wisdom to offer,” Duane sneered.
“Nothing to be sarcastic about, Duane,” Sam said. “Ehrenreich notes we’ve lost the will to resist, as was the case with those decades ago who fought back with violence. While that’s true, my emphasis here isn’t about how we’ve turned into a society of wimps. Let’s first consider one of the sayings of King Solomon from the book of Proverbs in the Bible. Chapter 22, verse 7 says, ‘The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.’ That’s not from the do’s and don’t’s category; that’s just a fact of life. Numerous other verses in Proverbs warn against financial foolishness.”
Sam sipped his coffee. “We can complain all we want about how greedy rich people are, but many of us put ourselves in subjection to them because we’re greedy as well. How many young people try by age 30 to have what it took their parents 30 years to have? You can’t borrow yourself rich.”
“Good point,” I said.
“Yeah,” Duane said, “but what about those people who have lost their jobs and can’t afford to pay the bills? Who really believes the unemployment numbers the government throws at us? We’re only hearing about the official numbers. No telling what it’s really like out there.”
“I realize that,” Sam said. “However, who says you are your job? We’ve been so conditioned to tie our identities to our jobs that we think we’re worthless if we don’t have a job. What’s the first thing somebody asks you when you meet for the first time?”
Duane and I were puzzled.
“They’ll ask the question, ‘What do you do?’ Sam took another sip of coffee. “True, your job is important, but shouldn’t define your worth as a person. In reality, a job is a means to an end. It’s a way of providing for your family. Losing that means of provision doesn’t make you less valuable as a person.”
“Tell that to the Fat Cats at the corporate level,” Duane grumbled. “Not to mention the credit card companies and mortgage lenders.”
“I hear you, Duane,” Sam said. “As Ehrenreich points out, we live in a culture where bankers and creditors see our worth based on a three digit credit score. That’s a very crass and shallow outlook on their part. On the other hand, do you base your own worth on your credit score?”
“I don’t even know what it is any more,” said Duane, “but I wouldn’t center my life around it, I know that.”
“All right then,” said Sam. “Don’t you have to wonder about the values of those who do?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” said Duane. “That’s a pretty shallow outlook on their part, too, isn’t it?”
“Indeed,” Sam said. “As Ehrenreich notes, we should value ourselves more than any amount of money. That’s the least we can do, and it’s Biblical, too.”
He paused to pull out a well worn pocket New Testament and began to leaf through it.
“Listen to this, gentlemen. I’m sure you two can appreciate this.
“This is what Jesus told His hearers in Matthew 10:29-31. ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.’”
Duane looked thoughtful. “I hear strains of the old song, ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow.’”
“That’s the idea,” Sam said, returning the Testament to his shirt pocket. “God sees all. There are no secrets from Him. He determines our worth, not someone in the corporate world. We’re created in God’s image and have no business destroying ourselves by suicide. It’s also a terribly selfish act that doesn’t take the others around us into consideration. What would it do to the loved one who finds your body, especially if you’ve blown your head apart with a gun? What sort of additional psychological, financial, or other problems would your death cause for those close to you?”
We were silent for a few seconds, Letting that sink in. Around us floated the smells of frying bacon and eggs, along with crowd noises and clattering plates. Morning sunlight blazed through the windows, seeming too bright for the solemn moment. Then Duane spoke quietly.
“That’s all good and well, Sam, but it’s still a tough world in the here and now.”
“You know where my hope is, gentlemen. My hope is in the Lord, not in the things of this world. By no means do I take the affairs of this world lightly, but I’m looking for better things when Christ sets up His kingdom. He’ll make all things right and put the wicked in their place.”
“What do you say to those who think that’s all pie in the sky?” Duane asked.
“I would ask what better they have to offer.”
“Another good point,” I said.
“So, what’s the bottom line in the meantime, Sam?” asked Duane.
“Don’t give up.” Sam popped a strawberry in his mouth before going on.
“Look at what John’s doing with his blog. He’s pointing his readers to resources to help them make it through the tough times we’re in now and the tougher times to come. For example, there’s Living On A Dime for those who are economically stressed.”
Sam pierced a piece of melon. “Essentially, gentlemen, at the risk of deflating the pious sounding words I’ve just uttered a minute ago, let me put it this way. As a wise old Indian said to me many years ago, ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down.’”