Mazzuca: ‘The less fortunate among us’
The man stood at the top of the I-70-Eagle exit ramp holding a crude cardboard sign that read “No $-No food.” His hair and beard were scruffy and his clothes unkempt. Next to him was a bicycle with a trailing kiddie-carrier loaded with what I assumed, were his earthly possessions. I suspected he was about my age, yet here we were; me on my way to Costco and him beseeching motorists to show compassion for his plight.
For no logical reason, these situations make me uncomfortable, so I avoided direct eye contact while waiting for the light to turn green. I recall I internalizing, “There but for the grace of God, goes me,” and asking myself how this man could have allowed himself to be reduced to such humiliating circumstances.
Could a terrible tragedy have befallen him? Perhaps, but the notion of a seemingly able-bodied man (his hands and arms were functioning and he had a bicycle) having no money or food in Eagle County when builders and landscapers are crying for laborers, didn’t comport. A telephone call to any one of the dozens of local contractors in the valley surely would have resulted in work of some type. But I don’t think he wanted work; what he was looking for was a hapless motorist to feel sorry for him and turn over some of their hard-earned dollars.
A good friend of mine who owns a large distributorship has a unique way of dealing with these situations. Whenever he’s approached by one of these street people, he hands the person his business card and tells them to call and he’ll give him a job. Interestingly, in the 20-plus years my friend has been handing out business cards, he’s never received a follow-up phone call.
Perhaps the man at the Eagle exit ramp should have pedaled over to the county building and detailed his predicament to one of our county commissioners, who could then design a new assistance program with money from the general fund, or better yet, propose a new tax for Eagle County ” but he would receive nothing from me.
Noted author and syndicated talk show host Neil Boortz opines that the phrase “the less fortunate among us” should be stricken from the lexicon. Boortz contends that too many politicians cleverly use it to convey the notion that anyone the government classifies as ‘poor’ must be victims of some unforeseen, unexpected, and unavoidable circumstances, and therefore should be the beneficiaries of government intervention. But I wonder if these politicians have ever heard of people like Kellie Lim or Allison Massari.
As a prepubescent girl, Kellie Lim was stricken by bacterial meningitis. The disease caused such severe internal bleeding and clotting that doctors had to remove her right forearm, three fingertips of her left hand and both of her legs, 6 inches below the knees.
But Kellie learned to adapt and persevere. In fact, her perseverance led to her medical degree from UCLA Medical School, where she earned UCLA’s highest honor in the field, the John M. Adams Award for Excellence in Pediatrics.
Then there’s Allison Massari, a former Singletree resident whose vehicle was struck by a drunk driver about ten years ago. The gas tank of Allison’s vehicle exploded and she was literally set on fire. The tissue of her right shoulder was burned to the bone; her back and her right side were heavily grafted and the physical trauma included years of wearing compression garments and physical therapy.
But Allison’s story didn’t end there. Five years later she was involved in another automobile accident; this one causing severe brain damage. During rehab, it took all of Allison’s concentration just to wiggle her toes, much less return to painting and sculpting. But today, Allison is a successful artist living in the Bay Area (www.AllisonMassari.com) and a present day “Phoenix” who has risen from the ashes.
Like Dr. Kellie Lim and Allison Massari, there are thousands, perhaps even millions of Americans who deserve our compassion. People who’ve survived natural disasters or were born with disabilities o who have endured situations that truly were unavoidable, but somehow I don’t think the man I encountered at exit No. 147 was one of them.
It’s a sad fact that many people who politicians determine as being “the unfortunate,” remain so because they keep doing whatever it was that put them in that circumstance in the first place, i.e., using drugs, ignoring education, having babies before finishing high school, joining gangs and choosing other deleterious life paths.
America remains the land of opportunity, which is why more people apply to immigrate here than anywhere else on Earth. If someone applies themselves in school, works hard, delays gratification, saves, plans, and makes a legitimate effort to use their decision-making powers wisely, they will be rewarded-if not, other consequences will likely follow.
Yes, of course we have social responsibilities ” one of the measures of a society’s greatness is how well it cares for its disadvantaged. Unfortunately though, where we run into problems is differentiating between the truly needy and those looking for a handout-whether from the government or motorists exiting I-70.
Quote of the day: “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.