I began feeling merely embarrassed. Then it turned to anger. But before I tell you why, I need to make a confession.
The confession. This morning I shopped at the Palm Springs Wal-Mart; again. Given how a small number of family members, their sum net worth that hovers somewhere around $20 to $25 billion, treats the sum of the employees whose labors provide handful that fortune, it is neither exaggeration nor anything facetious when I admit that rivers of genuine guilt course my veins. Nor do I feel it lifts me from the hook that my income consists entirely of my Social Security annuity.
That done, let’s move on.
A chorus of rightwing misanthropes spread-eagled Michelle Obama over embers of indignation when she, off the cuff, observed during a campaign stop that it was the first time she “felt really proud of her country.” I’m not going to here engage a recitation of historical anecdotes detailing the many moments where this country has comported itself less than honorably; indeed, despicably. Suffice it to acknowledge there have been numerous moments when feeling embarrassed over a behavior would have been the hem of the apron of an appropriate emotion.
Even if we stipulate the leaking of Ms. Obama’s pronouncement may be a reflection of a myriad of frustrations suffered as a consequence of institutionalized racial injustice, so what? Even when words issued may be imprudent, the emotions that gave them life are absolutely valid. How many of those issuing the harsh criticism are themselves wholly free of the sin of making an impolitic remark?
From Jesus, it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, it is what leaves it. But so too is the admonishment that only he who is without sin a possessor of the right to cast the first stone.
This morning’s experience left me livid. I have been over the past years too frequently an unwilling audience to the oral pontifications of those on the Right, conservatives and conservative Christians, pompously beating their breasts over “conservative values;” all energetic rationalizations on behalf of the status quo.
Thus it is that I’m going to remind them of a few facts. The first of which is that the word “value” is also defined as “a fundamental characteristic describing an object.” A “value” can be reprehensible just as easily as it can be highly merit worthy. When it comes to the social philosophies of conservatives and conservative (or fundamentalist) Christians, I’m unable to locate much that is socially merit worthy about their “values,” and certainly nothing that represents anything Jesus espoused. (If anyone can edify this atheist otherwise, such illumination would be greatly appreciated.)
Next, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” and “all things were owned in common,” did not have their genesis in any book of Marx, and sure as hell do not compose a syllable of David Stockman’s “trickle-down” or Arthur Laffer’s “supply-side” economic propositions. They’re from The Acts, the very first book following the Gospel of John in The New Testament of the Bible!
Okay, enough is enough: the story.
I had perhaps ten items in my cart; a few groceries, a couple boxes of the nasal spray that enables me to breathe, and a couple plastic storage boxes. The woman handling the checkout duties was, I’d estimate, in her mid-30s, a few pounds past slightly plump, and rather pleasant, all in all. She scanned the bar-coded items, then fell puzzled over three bulk produce items: a bag of green beans, a few stalks of asparagus, and a cabbage head. She apologized to me, how today was her first day alone at the register, and had to refer the flip-folder with photograph depictions and the key-in codes that was sandwiched beside the register.
“Are these fava beans?” she asked me.
“No, they’re green beans.” I had never before met anyone who didn’t know what a fresh green bean looked like.
The cabbage she felt might as easily been a head of iceberg lettuce. I had to clear the confusion.
As to the asparagus, she showed me the photograph on the chart, to secure my confirmation that asparagus was what she was holding, what she would code in next.
In a tone that I hoped was understanding, no matter how confounded I truly was, “You don’t know what green beans or cabbage or asparagus look like?”