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FAMILY LIFE

The Idea Is to Share the Bounty, Not Count It

November 23, 1989|MIKE SPENCER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

I got a call from a reader last week who complained that she was "sick and tired of reading all those stories about the homeless" in The Times.

Well, so am I.

I'm also weary from reading stories about child abuse, crime in general, wars and other assaults on humanity.

What to do about that fatigue is where the reader and I part company, however.

Her solution is to cancel the paper, to ignore Socrates' advice that "it's better to buy knowledge than to buy food and drink."

I think this day in particular is not the day to pretend life exists only in our own dining rooms. It is a day to expand the family.

The Pilgrims, you will note, did not break off into small groups whistling, "I Got Mine, Babe."

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of sharing the bounty, not counting it. And to be grateful that serendipity or something more powerful blessed most of us with more than we need.

Sharing is easy. There are missions and shelters all over the county--too many on one hand and not enough on the other.

Too many because it's grotesque to think any are necessary in the midst of Orange County's affluence. Not enough because, well, there just aren't.

My reader, or ex-reader by now, I suppose, said the homeless were mostly "bums and drunks who could find work if they wanted it." And I guess there are some in that category squeezed in among those who are physically, emotionally or mentally disabled, or old, or victims of plain bad luck.

For the sake of argument, we can even overlook those we refer to as the "working poor," people whose pitiful wages can't cover both food and shelter, let alone clothing, medical care and other things we take for granted.

What haunts me are the children, somewhere around 4,000 of them in Orange County by some estimates, who are members of those families.

I cringe when I consider what life must be like for them, and not just on Thanksgiving.

Jean Forbath, director of the Share Our Selves program in Costa Mesa, suggests that people think on this Thanksgiving of all the little things a home means. The big things, after all, are pretty obvious.

Think of just how often the word enters into your daily speech.

You're tired from shopping and the kids are acting up; you say, "OK, that's it, we're going home now."

You have a bad day at work or on the golf course; you think, "Boy, I can hardly wait to get home."

"Wait until I get you home" can be an amorous promise or an ominous threat, depending on who is on the receiving end.

You get the idea, but humor me and make a mental list anyway.

"It's pretty startling to consider not being able to say any of those, isn't it?" Forbath asks.

The Family Service Assn. of Orange County reminds us that this is National Family Week. "Families Matter" is the theme of the observance, focusing attention on families and their importance to individuals and society.

FSAOC sent a packet that included a list of "Togetherness Tips," suggestions on what families could do as units that don't cost a lot of money or take a lot of planning. They run from preparing meals together to visiting a museum to simply sitting down and going over the family album.

One I particularly like is the idea of spending a few minutes to take some cookies or a small gift to--and spend some time with--a senior citizen.

Our acts of kindness should not be seen only by the bank's computer. If we want our children to care and to be caring individuals, it seems to me we should provide the example and ask them to be involved too.

I can still remember as a child being told, whenever I wasted food, to think of the starving people of Europe. For all the personal insight and knowledge I had at that age, my parents might as well have suggested I think of the lemurs of the Amazon Basin.

The real world of the homeless and the needy isn't that far away. It's just around the corner from your house and mine, and I for one want my kids to see it and to lend a hand.

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