Poverty - A State of Mind

Original Article Here  (New York Times - Upshot)

Carson is both right and wrong here. And the Times misses an important point as far as I am concerned.
According to the article, we have more poverty in this nation than there is in any other developed nation. I don't doubt that. The question is why.

One possibility is that of the perceived lack of opportunity or a level playing field. A level playing field is really a myth anyway, but the perception that it is at least gently sloped as compared to a sheer rock face that must be climbed is important.
While the article cites studies done on children who have or have not climbed out of poverty to the middle class or beyond, it seems to me that one of the factors left out is this perception of 'it is possible'. Whether that perception is based empirical evidence or anecdotal data, it is very important that two things exist in that perception:
1) That there is a way to 'climb the ladder' without someone actively trying to dislodge the climber.
2) That the goal is worth achieving.
That second one is I think is as important as the first. Why should I bust my ass to get out of poverty and off welfare if the general economy is such that when I reach the middle class, it is not going to benefit me much more than when I was in poverty? Now days, it is not even stable! We have plenty of proof of that from the 2008 melt-down and it's subsequent devastation wreaked upon home-owners, retirees retirement accounts, and job losses which have led to folks who used to have steady jobs now working two or three low paying jobs with no benefits, just to pay the basic bills.
Then there is the debt picture: Why would I bust my ass to save for my kids college education, pay my own education loans, save for my retirement, buy and pay for a house when all of it can disappear in a heartbeat if my job goes away, or I get hurt? Oh yeah, all the while my spouse is busting ass to pay for their educational loans and make enough to "do those extras". Needless to say, we have limited time to spend with our 2.5 children who on average spend 5 hours a day yammering on facebook or tweeting like the President does.
Yeah, I am going to get right out there, dive in, and bust my ass to bootstrap myself up for that kind of risk...?
So given that gloomy outlook for what I might achieve by bettering myself, what is my compelling reason for getting off welfare and climbing out of poverty? Whether or not that gloomy outlook is accurate or not, that is the perception that I think many have, and that is a big problem.
And if you wonder why we have had populists getting all the attention and winning elections the last four presidential elections, I think at least part of the answer is in what I am postulating here. Perception....
Ben Carson is not all wrong, but he is a long way from right....


For Her We Are Wieland

As I sit and watch her sleep lightly on a cold and rainy May day, her wrist and hand curled and resting on her shoulder, the breathing in her chest so faint it can hardly be described as movement, I am struck by a paradox.  What some would describe as frailty is not that at all.  It is a symbol of incredible strength.  This woman who is almost not here, breathing eleven liters of oxygen through a mask into a body which is about to stop functioning, represents the indomitable adhesive which has bound our immediate family together since it became a family on the day she chose to travel through life with a partner: Our father.

Back when we became Wieland.

On that day back in 1960, she became Wieland in name, and our tiny branch of the family became hers to nurture, and guide.  Guide.  That probably describes Charlotte Jean Wieland better than any other word I can think of.  Mom is if nothing else, rational.  While not unlike all the rest of us in our humanistic need for companionship, one thing Mom did not need from anyone was much in the way of support when it came down to analyzing an issue.  Unlike the mostly alpha males she was surrounded by, she could be dispassionate and pragmatic without being unsympathetic.  The capacity and capability to be all of and each of those at once was one of those things that bound us together.

And thus, we are Wieland.

The rain on the South facing window of this tiny room in the nursing home is wind driven.  The bird feeders are empty of consumers today.  This is one of those pragmatic days.  There will not be a lot getting done, but instead we will all be transitioning to what we have to do next.  I will be heading back to Albertville to help my wife Oxana with a few things and to get myself ready for the next round of chemotherapy.  My brother will be finishing up arrangements that ensure that Mom is taken care of and working on the family homestead which is now his, and getting ready to return to his life and family on the West Coast.  And Mom will work on her crossword puzzle and drift in and out of sleep.  She having decided that being her role in life right now: Waiting patiently.  And in doing so, yet again providing an example for my brother and me.  Mom, the guide, showing us how it is done.

And so, we are Wieland.

Mom was born to and lived an early life I can only barley imagine in spite of the stories she and her brothers and sisters have told to me.  Their individual and combined experiences as kids are so real and yet so very detached from the world we live in today.  Born to Thomas and Murial Matthews in 1933, Mom was third of six children. Grandpa was a grader operator on roads mostly in Southern Wisconsin, helping to build highways like Hwy 61 through places like Reedstown and Soldiers Grove. They moved often as I understand it.  It was from Murial that Mom got her ability to draw, paint, and create.  But it was from Thomas that she learned to sing, aas Mom told me.  He would sit on the front porch with her and a little friend from down the street and sing with them after a long day driving the mules behind the grader.  That form of art would later play into her adult life, as she sang with our Father so beautifully.  Picture that if you will.....contrast it with what we live today.  Imagine the change this woman who lays sleeping in front of me has seen and experienced. And change is what she guided us through, teaching us to accept it, work with it, even when we don't like it.

And as such, we are Wieland.

Mom stirs.  Her eyes flicker open and closed, stay closed for a time, then her hand moves away from her shoulder and the pale eyes slowly focus on the wall where by brother has hung pictures of the family and a painting or two that Murial did long ago.  She does not yet realize that I am present, sitting in a blue recliner to the left of her simple hospital bed.  I say nothing, letting her get her bearings and adjust to yet another short time of wakefulness and waiting.  In a minute she does notice me, taking a few seconds to adjust to this unexpected reality.  She looks briefly surprised, then not.  A small knowing smile and a spark in her eyes.  And there is Mom.  All and completely here, just like she has always been.  All the strength and accumulated wisdom and fun and laughter and pain and joy. It is at once overwhelming and comforting.  And there is nothing I can do but simply accept that. This is Mom, here and now.

And I am Wieland.

Dad has been gone for about a year now. To speak of this woman without speaking of Dad would to be like speaking of rain without acknowledging clouds. Mom and Dad.  This was a union the likes of which can only be described as a force of nature. Each was an elemental, and together they were, to me anyway, indescribable.  However, these two were not in any way similar in anything other than those things they chose to share.  Dad was a driving force with the determination of a head strong mule and a keen, directed and hungry intelligence.  Mom was the rock to which he and my brother and I anchored. The always available sounding board for ideas, frustrations, and anything else we Wieland boys had to say.  Many a conversation I heard where Mom played the role of pragmatic planner while Dad dreamed and schemed.  Dad the visionary, Mom the planner and guide. This was how they operated. This is how they taught us. Vision and pragmatism. I see these in my brother, and to a certain extent in myself.

And so together, Mom and Dad defined Wieland.

Mom and I visit for about fifteen minutes.  There is no reason to try to push the time further. To do so would be to search for something which does not need to be found. We are each on our own way to where we need to go next. It is that simple. I can't feel sad. Perhaps a bit melancholy, but not sad. I know full well that I may very well not see Mom alive again. She knows this too. But then I might, and that would be a very good thing. We are together and yet individual and today is like all days, a part of the process we call life. God gave it to us and here it is to celebrate.

And we celebrate it as Wieland.

She is tired. It is time for me to go. I take her hand and smile with a certain pride. Mom smiles and re-iterates that she is doing what she wishes and this is what she wants. I understand and tell her so. She holds my hand for almost a full minute, just looking at me. Then she smiles and says see you later. One way or another I know we will.

We are, after all, much to her credit, Wieland.

Monday appears sunny, bright and warmer.  I have slept a lot since Saturday and wake very late, a bit after 09:00. Oxana asks me to drive her to get some errands done and I oblige. As we begin our excursion I notice there is a voicemail waiting for me. I slip on the bluetooth and dail up.  It is my brother informing me that Mom has died. I am momentarily taken aback, as the new day has not yet reminded me of Mom in her room where I last talked with her.  I hang up to adjust to this reality for a few. I choke up briefly, then recall that I knew this was likely.  Oxana is supportive and asks if I will be OK, and of course, I am and will be. Mom has been granted her passing as she wished it to be. There is nothing to be sad about. Her life here is completed. All that she was has filtered into the continuum of existence. This is our faith, our belief stated in terms different than what she or Dad would have used, but the core is there. In the words of the faith we were taught by Mom and Dad, both are now with God, and those words work too. They remind me of the hymns Mom and Dad sang together as they worked in the gardens we often grew, or in church sometimes. Mom with that beautiful contralto and Dad a gentle tenor. Harmony... she knew how to establish that in more than music.

And Wieland we continue to be, after her and because of her....


This is so different than what I wrote about Dad, and it should be. I wrote of Dad after he had gone.  It seems fitting that I wrote of Mom after what turned out to be our last visit. I can't say exactly why, though I think perhaps it is because she inspired calm strength, and I needed to capture that for myself while it was right there in my mind. All that incredible strength and accumulated wisdom gently waiting to transition to that which is next. No fear, no regret, no sadness. Just quiet acceptance and gratitude for a life she cherished.

As I re-read this writing, I find it clumsy and disjointed. I begin to think I should edit and polish it. Mom deserves better. And then I realize that this will never be smooth and polished, and making it so would be a lie. Understanding a Mom is the realm of the little boy become man, knowing full well that he will never really understand the love of a mom. I see this even now in my wife and my daughters as they live this extraordinary role: Mother.

And perhaps Mom would be proud. I am experimenting with a different style of writing, borrowing from two amazing authors: Bobbi Pauling who deftly bends time in her hopefully soon to be published book and Patrick Junk who recently wrote and shared a short piece which uses the repetition of a phrase to enhance the theme. Mom was an artist. There was a beautiful pencil sketch of my brother on the counter in the room where she lived her last few days. Perhaps Mom would be proud of this clumsy attempt at ....what? In the end, it boils down to the simple, a statement from a little boy inside a man:

I love you Mom. For because of you, I am and will continue to be, a proud Wieland.