“Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tua da gloriam.”
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.” — Psalm 115, from the King James Version of the Bible.
As Thanksgiving approaches and family gatherings appear to be limited for the holiday on account of COVID-19, it’s easy to lose sight of the greater problems weighing down many unfortunate people this year, such as hunger and homelessness. People of sufficient means can afford to fret over not seeing friends and relatives in person, or over temporary shortages of goods and services inconveniencing them, but they at least have a warm, secure place to live, and enough food and other necessities to go around. Should they become sick, they have access to quality medical attention.
The cover of a pamphlet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reminding Americans of the need in a country with plentiful food to be mindful of not eating too much.
What about the people without all those good things to be thankful for this year? The economic disruption of COVID-19 has pushed millions of people into desperate straits this year, most of them workers in the service sector who could least afford to miss a paycheck. While professionals could work from home using a computer and an internet connection, that option has not been available to most service workers, for whom the choice has been to work and thereby expose themselves to the coronavirus or stay home as long as they had a home to stay in and money to buy food. Some have been able to sustain themselves on financial assistance, others have not.
As bad as prolonged isolation can be, poverty is worse. As inconvenient as it can be to have money and not always have goods available in stores to buy, or restaurants to visit for some time out of the house, it is worse to work in those stores and restaurants for low wages and be exposed eight hours or more a day to coronavirus, and yet have to endure the abuse of entitled, spoiled, petulant customers, or to not have a job at all. For all that, there are still ways to say “thanks” this holiday season, and to help someone else along the way.
Food banks are experiencing greater demand now than at any time in recent memory. The same goes for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other charities helping the recently displaced as well as the chronically underemployed. There are safe ways to volunteer, but if that doesn’t seem possible, then help out by making a donation. Hospital staffs around the country are overworked, and they could use the assistance even of people without medical training. Farmers are reporting reduced demand for turkeys over 20 pounds because fewer large groups will be gathering for holiday dinners in their homes. The hungry who can’t afford to buy those larger turkeys could surely benefit by having them bought for them. Help carry the burden of this pandemic by picking up the fallen, and say grace in thanks to whatever faith sees you through another day.
Patrick Doyle composed this version of the traditional Catholic hymn “Non Nobis, Domine” for the 1989 film Henry V, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. Mr. Doyle appears as the soldier singing at the beginning of the scene, which depicts the aftermath of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt in the Hundred Years’ War.
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
— Luke 14:12-14, from the New International Version of the Bible.
It’s puzzling to watch poor and working class people watch rich people on television, such as on shows about house hunters looking at multi-million dollar properties. Many of these rich people are frivolous twits who obsess about things like granite countertops and bathroom saunas. Why don’t many of the poor folks watching these excesses feel anger and revulsion at money being thrown away on luxuries, things they themselves could never afford as they struggle to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck? Instead they watch these programs with a kind of detached envy, commenting critically on the relative niceness of various unnecessary features.
As for the rich, they mostly have contempt for the poor people window watching on their lifestyles. They usually try to mask their contempt, of course, since it’s considered bad form among their peers to make a show of kicking the downtrodden. Mostly they ignore the poor, which is easy to do living in gated communities and surrounding oneself with all the accoutrements of wealth and security they can buy. It doesn’t occur to them to question the envy of their lifestyles by the poor, since it is based on the fabulous nature of material things they themselves exalt above all else. What troubles them is the contempt wafting toward them from some in the middle class.
Nancy Wilson, foreground, Meals on Wheels program manager, works along with other volunteers at the Great Falls Community Food Bank in Great Falls, Montana, preparing gravy on November 23, 2011 to be used the next day for the Thanksgiving meal. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen.
Historically, it has always been elements from the middle class which have led revolutions. The poor are too wrapped up in trying to survive and in slavish envy of those who have more, even when wealth is waved in their faces, but always out of reach. The middle class have the education to understand how the rich are playing them for suckers, and they have the leisure time to organize against them. They have only to inform the poor how the rich have used and manipulated them in order to gain strength from numbers. That’s easier said than done, however, and it’s a task made more difficult by the popularity among the poor of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type entertainment in movies and television.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet staff and volunteers prior to a Thanksgiving service project at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., on November 27, 2013. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, it is unlikely a high percentage of the rich and famous will be helping feed the poor and homeless. Giving and volunteering are largely activities engaged in by the middle class, and even the poor and working class. Strange then that the poor and working class should continue to ally themselves with the rich, to envy them their wealth and privilege and, when they vote, to often as not vote to the rich person’s tune.
It tries one’s patience and understanding to refrain from feeling contempt for a group of people who can witness the casual disregard of a leader who tosses rolls of paper towels at them after a horrific natural disaster, and who nevertheless still support that leader. Such a leader would never volunteer to feed the poor at a food bank or homeless shelter, at least not sincerely. For him, it would be nothing more than a photo opportunity he would be eager to get over with. But a division between the middle class and the working class and poor only benefits the rich, the oligarchy. Better to reach out and to serve, even when the people on the other end can often be ignorant, mean-spirited, and hateful.
Amazon.com,the internet’s everything store, recently announced it will be opening two secondary headquarters, one in the New York City borough of Queens, and the other in the Arlington, Virginia, area near Washington, D.C.. City and state officials in both locations offered Amazon enormous benefits at taxpayers’ expense, though the exact amounts are unknown because officials claim they have a competitive advantage by keeping their bids secret.
Nonsense. It’s the taxpayers’ money and they have every right to know how officials spend it. The whole nationwide competition for Amazon’s secondary headquarters was a yearlong sham and circus, the kind of municipal debasement and looting that has become far too common as states and cities are pitted against each other for the dubious prize bestowed on them by corporate behemoths relocating or opening new places of business.
Caricature of “Organized Big Business Interests” illustrated by John Miller Baer (1886-1970) for part of the November 17, 1919 cover ofThe Nonpartisan Leader. Nearly one hundred years later, a caricature of a big business interest is more likely to appear trim and fit, wearing jeans and a turtleneck or other informal clothing.
Amazon is to labor practices and corporate citizenship as an internet business as Walmart is to labor practices and corporate citizenship among brick and mortar stores, which is to say they are leaders in their respective fields in abusing their lowest tier workers and siphoning funds away from local communities. Both Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, and the Walton family at the head of Walmart are obscenely rich. They got that way because of their cleverness at exploiting the properties mentioned above, not because of their own virtuousness and hard work as they would have everyone believe. There are millions upon millions of people who are every bit as virtuous and hard working as Mr. Bezos and the Walton family, probably more so, and they are not obscenely rich, or even well off.
Buy Nothing Day demonstration in San Francisco, California, in November 2000. Photo by Lars Aronsson.
Mr. Bezos and others like him are obscenely rich because they are, among their other qualities in starting and running a business, both good and bad, obscenely greedy. Shoppers visiting the Amazon website cannot be blamed for taking advantage of the low prices and good service. That would be a kind of “blaming the victim”. Besides, it is all too easy for shoppers to forget about or remain ignorant of Amazon’s bad labor practices and exploitative corporate citizenship since it does those things mostly out of sight and therefore out of mind, a benefit it has as an internet company that Walmart does not have as a brick and mortar outfit.
Shoppers might fairly ask themselves, however, that even if they are not entirely complicit in sustaining Mr. Bezos’s greed, perhaps their own much smaller proportion of greed is something worth examining. It is a form of greed that drives most purchases from Amazon. Amazon sells some necessities such as groceries, but then so do stores at neighborhood shopping centers throughout the country. Most of what Amazon sells are not necessities. They are convenient luxuries, great or small, delivered to the shopper’s door. With the enormous emphasis on shopping around Thanksgiving all but swallowing up the holiday and its meaning, people might want to step back from the shopping cart, both real and virtual, and reflect on how their own petty greed feeds the monstrous greed of Jeff Bezos and his fellow billionaires and millionaires, while around the world millions upon millions of decent people go hungry.