Sponges and Rocks

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True story.

My grandmother was a sharecropper. For a span of years, she and my grandfather picked cotton on a parcel of land owned by Mr. Charles in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I remember the day my grandmother showed me a cotton boll and demonstrated how to separate the stems from the cotton from the seeds.

My grandmother and grandfather both worked the land and raised their family as they worked through a debt that had been accumulated in the hopes of doing better. When they realized Mr. Charles was continuously invoicing them whout ever being satisfied with any amount  of payment, they began to discuss the possibility of running away. They considered it for some time because, after all, they were the ones that agreed to the initial contract in the first place.

Though the sharecropper agreement was becoming an ever increasing burden, Grandmama continued to assist the best way she could in paying on their account. So much so that as the years passed and her children grew, she had developed a system to continue to be a good mother and a good worker. To solve the problem, her son Rayford was placed at the end of the row of cotton she was to pick. As she moved down that row and towards Rayford, her younger son Nathaniel rode on her hip as she squatted down and retrieved cotton bulbs. In between the rhythm of it all, she took  moments to rub her belly and calm the soon-to-be youngest son growing in her belly, Melvin.

She continued this balancing act until one day, she didn’t show up for work.

Overworked, pregnant and too tired to push anymore, my grandmother stayed in bed one morning. In disgust by this lackadaisical act, Mr. Charles sent for my grandfather and told him, “You tell that gal of yours that if she don’t come in, I’m gonna get her”.

“…get her”, as in physically discipline her. That was enough for my grandfather. And off my grandparents ran.

Where they ended up was in a community two hours away, close to family members who could aid and offer support until my grandparents could get on their own two feet.

Years later, those same grandparents called a wallstreet executive, a judge and a regional economic adviser  their three sons. In an environment where they could work and live without threat or intimidation, my family absorbed their opportunities like a sponge.

To those who feel that it is not their responsibility to assist others after they have worked to obtain their own, it is true that assisting those less fortunate is not an act in which one must participate.  But for those whose life hasn’t always been a crystal stair, we recognize that there was someone whose kindness, generosity and consideration made it possible for us to do better. So we leave droplets behind for the ones who come after us – knowing that those who possess just as much zeal, fervor and pride to do for themselves will utilize the nourishment for their benefit and that they, in turn, will do the same for someone else. It’s trickle-down economics at its finest and it works when all those involved understand the role that each is to play in the process and why.

In all the talk about the 99% and the 1%, what is lost in the fray is the notion that there is no alternative to co-mingling with each other as a human race. For every individual or family that can afford it, there is at least a handful of people who interact with them as they service their needs –  drycleaning clothes, preparing food, servicing vehicles, cleaning homes. Those people aren’t asking for an undue reward. They simply desire a wage to afford their own food, clothing, shelter, obligations and amenities. There once was a time when we understood that less fortunate didn’t mean less hardworking, less determined or less human. But the rhetoric circling around these days suggests as much.

There are examples of some who do not want to work hard. One need look no further than to a neighbor, a classmate or a friend who appears to believe that good fortune comes along to those who stand in line for it. Just like anyone else, I am frustrated to see this instant success thought process. But the less fortunate don’t exclusively hold the deed on this way of thinking. In the end, those who fail to plan will most likely continue to fail until there are foundational changes in how they view and adjust to challenges. In the end, those individuals have little to do with my decision to leave droplets. These individuals most likely won’t see the value in droplets anyway.

We are all less fortunate as compared to. We are all more fortunate as compared to.  This financial striation is a good thing because it allows us all to be sandwiched between being the benefactors of help and being the beneficiaries of it. But the striation does not exist solely for financial exchange, it also serves as a buffer area where understanding, training and perception can be aligned and calibrated for progress. What better way to learn how to run a business than by watching over the shoulders of a next door neighbor? What better way to understand how to balance work and family than through the over-the-fence conversation between a working mother and a working mom? I think these are the types of relationships that are engendered as a flagship of Heights’ living.  Some things are about exposure and time, learning to obtain and maintain. And some things are about recognizing the process of getting to “better”. Like a hardened sponge, some need time to settle as they absorb the droplets.

If indeed they are sponges, this will happen. If they are not, it won’t.  Like a rock in the rain, the droplets will splatter and slide away to be absorbed by something more adept at utilizing it.

As this community moves through economic recovery, make sure you look out for the sponges.

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