Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope Breeds Eternal

Today, as Barrack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States, a scene came to mind from his campaign, where he said, "We are the ones we've been waiting for." Amidst what popular convention interprets as a promise of a greater role for the Federal government in our daily lives, we are challenged to imagine these words as if they were taken at face value.

If you venture outside the Beltway to Pittsburgh, heading west of that city on US 22, crossing into the northern panhandle of West Virginia into Ohio, you will reach an old industrial city known as Steubenville, site of a fortress outpost for the Northwest Territory in the post-colonial era. Traveling further west, you will soon cross into one of the poorest counties in Ohio. There you will pass a little town with a population of barely a thousand, one that would otherwise go unnoticed.

"Ruth" and "Daniel" own a small farmhouse just off a county road that ventures from the main highway. Daniel is what used to be called a "gentleman farmer," raising enough produce for his family, with enough left over to share with parishioners after Sunday Mass. They save water from the rain gutters in giant drums. They waste little else, and have few luxuries. In his younger days, Daniel would sneak into dumpsters behind supermarkets, to retrieve meat products that were expired but still safe. He would preserve his goods in a large freezer in the basement, next to the old wringer washer. His enterprise would support his own family, as well as numerous others in the township in more dire straits than their own. With the last of their three children setting out for themselves, Ruth took a job at a museum in the city. But for much of their lives together, Ruth and Daniel have lived technically below the poverty line, although you would not know it to visit a well-kept and happy home. They have also been without health insurance.

So how is it that Ruth is a three-time breast cancer survivor?

It is here that we return to the little town off the main highway. Everyone pulled together to raise the money for her treatments, with bake sales and spaghetti dinners at the town firehouse, and silent auctions with contributions from local businesses. Not only has Ruth benefited from this generosity, but a mother and daughter with identical brain tumors who had to be flown to California for treatment.

Those passing through, in asking around, will learn that this spirit of giving is common to these parts. You wonder how they do it when they have so little for themselves. It is often said that the poor are among the most generous. Maybe this is what Christ meant in the lesson about "the widow's mite." This lesson appears to have been taken to heart, in a county that is not waiting for a government bailout. (Like most of the rural parts of Ohio, this county went Republican in the last three elections. There might be a message in there somewhere.)

If we are indeed "the ones we've been waiting for," then we've been here all along. We would do well to witness this true meaning of hope for the hopeless, as we begin a new Presidential administration, one that reverberates with the themes of "hope" and "change." Perhaps it is more than coincidence, that the name of this little town off the main highway, known as the boyhood home of actor Clark Gable... is also known as Hopedale.

No comments: