Do we owe it to our fellow man to be industrious?
I had a conversation with an inner city kid once about responsibility. He was eighteen, had a two year old son, and had never held a job. He was similar to Michael O’Connor, the protagonist in The End of Marking Time, in a number of ways. He explained to me in great detail the rules related to obtaining welfare. He knew where you could live, how much the government would pay, and what it would take to get by without holding a job. Before I met him I had only a foggy notion about what the rules might be. He stood on my lawn and told me how lucky I was to have such a big house in a nice neighborhood. What did he want? Money of course.
I was really struck that this kid expected me to give him money because I looked like I had some. When I looked at him, I thought he assumed my money had been handed to me. He told me that he had never met his father. That his friends got girls pregnant and walked away. That he wanted to be different. I told him that no one had ever given me anything. Yes I knew my father and he made me work my tail off to earn my keep in his house.
We talked a long time and learned quite a bit about each other. The thing I couldn’t get over was that he hadn’t invested much effort in himself at all. He didn’t finish school. He had no idea what he could do to earn money except to ask for it and he expected us to pay his bills seemingly forever. The idea baffled me. This kid never expected to do anything of value and he expected the rest of us to pay his way. I’m sure he hadn’t studied economics or political science, but couldn’t he see the injustice that was screaming out at me? How could he aspire to nothing more than putting his hand out for help whenever he needed something?
Don’t you think that if our fellow citizens are going to build microwaves and computers and houses that we should do something of value for them in return?
From the time I was strong enough and fast enough on my feet to be useful, my dad put me to work. Money was tight when I was young and when there was something we could do to earn a buck, we did it. We caught fish. We cut firewood. We worked hard to make our way with what was available. My dad, who turns 67 this year, is retired, but is constantly busy working on one project or another. To this day neither of us knows what to do with ourselves if we aren’t working.
The kid left my house with his money, but I also told him a story about another kid who’s parents hadn’t given him money for cars or college or a house, but had given him the determination and ambition to go and earn these things for himself. I’m not sure which of us learned more that day, but I do know that kid helped me understand how important family is to the path we take in life. When you read The End of Marking Time, you’ll hear echoes of our conversation in Michael and the people trying to help him.
Enjoy The End of Marking Time and please join me for the virtual launch party on June 10th.