I spent the day yesterday scanning letters between my mother and her siblings into the computer. As I did so I got your lovely response. I deeply appreciate that you wrote. There seems to be something cosmic between Australia and my family. You see, my mother has been there twice. She went to New Guinea on a Lutheran mission when she finished college and her brother took her back to visit in her 60s. Both trips included lengthy stays in Australia.
Given my immediate family’s socioeconomic status, it is quite funny to say that my mother has traveled twice to another continent. But I think that is why I felt I was destined to tell our particular American story. Our family represents downward mobility. Bad luck. The bad roll of the dice in the family genetics. If our story had happened in mid-17th century Europe, we would have headed to America. If it would have happened in mid-18th century, we would have moved further west within the United States, and staked a claim in a western state.
We did move around. A lot. But there was no wiggle room for odd people by the mid 20th century. What had changed the most was the story line within the United States. This actually happened because of an Australian. Rupert Murdoch has been selling his particular Fox News brand of beliefs to Americans in my extended family for two decades now. That brings me back to the letters between my mother and her siblings. They are toxic.
Her brother mercilessly shames his sister for using government disability payments yet he knows she has bipolar disorder. His father had bipolar disorder. His father was hospitalized twice in the state mental hospital. I have stories about him as well. But sticking to my mother. She has been hospitalized more times than I can count while dealing with bipolar disorder. Her brother came to the hospital following one of her suicide attempts and essentially left me to deal with it alone when I was sixteen.
Her brother knows his father used Social Security for years and years, well beyond what he paid into it. He knows he himself used food stamps. He knows his nephew uses disability beyond what he paid into it because he is in a wheelchair. Yet he goes on and on about how he paid so much in taxes and only his family should be using his tax dollars. His sister is using disability for her mental illness. Who does he think are in his family? Who does he think would be supporting these people if the government were not?
He is a rich American who feels burdened by his taxes but doesn’t think about the fact that he would otherwise be supporting all of these people all by himself without the help of other rich Americans. The person in a family with the most resources supports a family. Am I right? So my cruel uncle who delights in writing nasty letters to his sister about how she burdens him via the government is not thinking at all about how our culture would have burdened him prior to the government arrangement.
But the sad thing is that this uncle isn’t cruel at heart. A revolution in values has taken place in the United States. The right wing media has pumped decades of propaganda into the homes of people like my aunt and uncle turning them against even their own sister. They see her as a tax burden on them instead of a sister.
Still, cultures force empathy upon some of their members because they aren’t going to bear the burden themselves. In a traditional society, sick family members like my mother were taken care of by her family not turned away. When Americans realize this is their traditional role, they will perhaps once again stop resenting their taxes.