The Meaning of a Handout

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My uncle was an Irish Catholic New Englander. Born days before the crash of the stock market that kicked off the depression as the fifth child in his family, he was the epitome of cheap and hospitable. His funeral was last year. At 80+ years old, his wake was standing room only. Hundreds of people came to remember and appreciate him. The stories shared during the eulogy were a fitting tribute to a man who opened his home to my mother when she lost everything in my teen years. The same man who constantly hounded me about not eating more than my 25% of any meal. 

He didn't believe in 'handouts' and opposed the liberal agenda, as he called it, with the passion he brought to everything in his life. Still, no one went hungry on his watch - there was always room for one more at the table in his world. He had a cultural prejudice against Italians. This didn't prevent his sister or his daughter from choosing Italian spouses. And we held the meal portion of the wake at an Italian restaurant. Sitting there with my family, drinking red wine with my cousins, I looked around and knew Uncle Paul would approve of our lovingly getting the last word. 

My uncle loved me, loved his family. We argued about abortion, capitalism, homelessness, and taxes. We likely argued about a lot of things I don't remember arguing about. He raised my aunt's children as his own after they married. He took care of her through years of degrading memory loss until she passed. Fair didn't really mean much to him-- for me or him or anyone else. There was your word and your actions. 

As progressives, we have something to learn from people like my uncle. He was overt in his prejudices. When confronted with something unexpected, he was able to see it and change. As liberals we are often pretty self-satisfied and smug. We pull out our graphs and charts and bully people with intellectual assertions. Many of us have ousted god from our iconography. This doesn't mean liberals have escaped the clutches of self-righteous faith in our religious values. Academia. Inclusion. Logic. 

Getting stuck on words like 'handout' or 'religion' loses us something important- the awareness of our fundamental agreement on doing better for more people. Our methods differ. Our goals are remarkably similar. My uncle was a force for good in his world, in many ways. I hope to have the same said of me in 30+ years. Don't we all?