Let’s say that in your neighborhood there are several needy families — poor families who need more food for their children and money for paying the light bill. These families are not lazy. In fact, one or both parents work, literally, from daylight to dark, and the older children pitch in any way they can.
The scenario is one of constant labor, and close-knit families. These families are quiet, shy, subservient, and appear to be tired and often fearful. They apparently have little education and few, if any, marketable skills. Still, they labor hard and long at whatever menial jobs they can find.
Perhaps families of this description don’t live in your neighborhood because of the price of the houses. Let’s say they live down the highway in a trailer park.
Now for two questions for both reader and writer: What’s the right thing to do for these families, whether they live next door or in a nearby community? Remember, they are not lazy. They are working almost constantly, and they are peaceful neighbors. Many of them walk regularly to work and to church. You have learned from a reliable source that they could use more food and are hardly making enough money to keep the lights on.
Another question: If it is right to aid such neighbors who are so close, should we not have the same impulse if these families live alongside each other in the trailer park?
Some readers will demand of me yet another question, so I will ask it: Are these neighbors illegal immigrants? It’s a fair question because we have nothing if we don’t have rule of law, especially regarding borders. Of course the obvious answer is some are legal and some aren’t. But this question forces yet another one.
What happens or what should happen when our political views collide with our beliefs about helping people who are genuinely in need? Which of the two should be more overarching or at least more immediately attended to? Put differently, how does one deal with the moral ambivalence caused by his political views on one hand and his spiritual (or just social/neighborly) responsibility on the other?
For two people I know of, there is no ambivalence to deal with at all. Shannon Sikorski, my former barber (former because I moved), believes that she and everyone else should help all people in need. So does the Rev. Tom Tanner, pastor of Riverstone Church in Kennesaw. Separately and at first unbeknownst to each other, these two citizens have been actively attending to the needs of residents in Castle Lake Mobile Home Park in Kennesaw. Their work was highlighted on the front page of the MDJ on Monday of this past week.
At issue is the Kennesaw City Council’s 5-0 vote to annex much of the Castle Lake property into the city limits so as to rezone it and accommodate the plans of Fuqua Development to build a planned community. The plans would displace many of Castle Lake’s 1,500 residents.
From talking with Tanner and Sikorski this week, I learned that Tanner’s church has been ministering for three years to Castle Lake residents through tutoring children, repairing homes, and hosting cookouts. Tanner’s praise for the residents was echoed by Sikorski, who is the owner of Big Shanty Barbershop in Kennesaw and who for the last two years has raised money to help pay for utility bills and provide Christmas gifts for Castle Lake children.
“I am jealous of the sense of community and the independence of the Castle Lake residents we helped. They were shy and hesitant at first to accept our help, never the stereotyped takers,” said Sikorski. She and Tanner are both concerned about the impending development’s effect on the residents. Sikorski is appreciative, however, of Mayor Mark Mathews’ commitment to help residents relocate.
I, for one, have sung the mantra of “borders, language, culture.” I still do. America’s inattention to borders and a common, unifying language is mindless. Mexico’s government, America’s government, and in some cases the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (that likes cheap labor) have shamelessly created an underclass.
But if my neighbor, whatever his status, is hungry or in a tight spot, I hope I will always have the spirit and the activism of Shannon Sikorski and Rev. Tom Tanner.
And who is my neighbor? That was answered centuries ago. It’s anybody who is down and out.
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.