This column appeared in our August 10 issue under the title “How Much Is Enough?”
When I think about a family farm of 18,000 acres or people with two snowmobiles, two pickup trucks, two ATVs and a motorhome, I react with (self-?) righteousness: “Too much stuff.”
Then I think about our home: Betsey and I have five vacuum cleaners – a water vac, a shop vac, two Dysons and a robo-vac named Nelda. Wendell Berry’s question, which he calls “the most urgent question of the time,” is on my mind. “How much is enough?” It’s relatively easy to point to others, those lives marked by conspicuous consumption. It’s much harder to deal with your own patterns of living.
My grandfather answered Berry’s question. Long, long ago, they “lost the farm,” bought a house in town (I think he paid $3,000) and took decades to pay for it, and then finally sold it for $18,000 in the 1970s. He promptly took some of the money from the sale of the house and handed out cash to others who were having a tough time financially. I remember him saying something like this: “All my life I have been poor, and now I am finally able to give more.”
My daughter Elisabeth Gesch is a hospital pharmacist in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her union is voting for a one-day walkout to advocate for pandemic pay for all healthcare workers. This is her response:
“Please STOP advocating for pandemic pay for people like me: healthcare professionals who already make far more than a living wage. There are limited dollars available for healthcare. Although this pandemic has certainly changed my daily work and increased stress, I don’t need more money. Advocate for those below a certain wage to get fair pay, and then advocate for that fair pay to continue regardless of pandemic.
Our healthcare system is underfunded already, and the last thing it needs is for well-off people who are fortunate enough to be still employed to take money from a very stressed system. This will inevitably result in cuts to services elsewhere in the system and/or in non-healthcare services. The federal government just released the report on the billions of dollars this pandemic is costing us already. Others are suffering from lack of funds, but it’s not healthcare professionals.
If you want to help professionals in their very challenging jobs during this pandemic, advocate for childcare for front-line workers, or housing benefits for those who have to isolate away from their families. These are tangible ways to help out front-line workers who need assistance, without just giving money to those who already have enough to live comfortably.”
What would happen if more of us answered Berry’s question honestly, for ourselves?
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