A Tight Fist or an Open Palm?

Dearest Rachel –

There’s a meme that I think existed when you were still around; whether you’d recognize it or not is debatable. After nineteen months (and no, I haven’t forgotten, but there is more to write to you about today than merely commemorating the passage of time), you may well have forgotten about all the things you left behind, particularly something as . Basically, it’s a take on how the poster admits that their ancestors would be incredulous at how soft they’ve become, in comparison to the things they had to do in order to merely survive:

You might recognize the guy portraying the ‘ancestor’; he’s known as the ‘blinking white guy,’ the memetic embodiment of the “excuse me, but what did you just say?” reaction.

I could go into what I found out about this guy when I went to research the two separate memes, but really, that’s no more germane to the story than it is to any other meme involving him in either of these forms. Besides, the name – of the guy, or the organization he belongs/belonged to – would mean nothing to either of us. All you need to understand that the first image is essentially what encapsulates yesterday’s situation.

To be fair, it doesn’t go back nearly as far as those paleolithic hunter-gatherers disapproving of my soft lifestyle; whether they would or not doesn’t concern me all that much. I find myself more wondering about those who I actually knew: my grandparents, your parents… and, of course, you. But the real issue at hand is the fact that, no matter which choices I make, there will always be someone in even that small group that would disapprove.

My grandparents, in particular, were known for their generosity, despite never having all that much, materially speaking. Theirs was the doctrine of the open palm, and the black book for favors rendered that it was generally understood didn’t exist. There was no underlying quid pro quo in anything they did or offered to those in need; only the understanding that, as far as they were concerned, they were simply following God’s orders

Whenever you are able,·do [do not withhold] good to people who ·need help [or deserve it]. If you have what your neighbor asks for, don’t say, “Come back later. I will give it to you tomorrow.”

Proverbs 3:27, 28, Expanded Bible

Now, simply because they were doing this without any expectation of a return did not mean that the bread they cast upon the waters did not return them manyfold. Dad still talks about a family friend who, upon hearing the news about his elder brother Wally (who, like you, suffered a freak, fatal accident at camp – although Honey Rock is several times farther away from Chicago as Camp Awana), reminded his dad of the cost involved in bringing Wally’s body home. According to Dad, it was at this point that Grandpa’s friend pulled out a wad of hundred dollar bills, and set them on the table one by one, asking only that my grandfather ‘say when’ he thought he’d have enough to bring his son home. You get those kinds of friends when you’re that kind of friend to them, I imagine.

With all due respect to them, your parents were a bit of a contrast to that. There was only so much that they would extend to people. I suppose it’s to be understood; you don’t amass that kind of money by flinging it around willy-nilly. But considering you had to beg them to spend it on their own healthcare, so that they could stay in their own house, rather than having to deal with a nursing home, it can hardly be argued that they were not tightfisted. And while some would take the fact that they were cagey with their investments as a compliment, that last adjective (or simply the first part, ‘tight’) was considered a gross insult in my family.

Although I should hardly be condemnatory towards them; after all, we benefited much from their largess. Granted, I think much of it had to do with Daniel, and their desire to provide for their only grandchild. Early on, they helped us buy a home so that he could have a sandbox in a backyard, and at the end, they left nearly everything to you under the evident assumption that he would need to be institutionalized for the rest of his life. Had you stayed single, or we stayed childless, I wonder if things might not have been much different.

They did help other members of their family, but it would seem those experiences colored how they would deal with finances ever after. Having paid college tuition for one grand-niece, they left her out of the will, implying she had thereby already received their bequest. Other experiences in lending out money led them to be surprised by the fact that we paid our mortgage regularly and on time.

And so, when one of your relatives called me yesterday, in urgent financial straits, I might’ve been justified in turning them down. Your folks would’ve approved of my prudence, after all. I could retain a closed fist, and have their approval, were they looking down upon me and my decision. But then… you’re looking down upon me, too, as are my grandparents. And you (and they) would have called for me to extend the open palm. No matter which path I took, no matter which choice I made, I would disappoint someone by it.

I took your path.

It was a little involved, requiring me to withdraw some cash, and purchase a transfer order at the local Walmart. I didn’t know this, but apparently you can send money from one Walmart to another. All this family member had to do was to show up at any other store in the state, confirm their identity and the transaction code, and they would receive the cash to take care of their financial emergency. It may not be the prudent thing to do, but I’m pretty sure you (and my grandparents) would tell me it was the right thing.

I want to make it clear that I’m not telling you all this to get a pat on the back, or an ‘attaboy,’ although some reassurance that I had made the correct decision would be nice, given my envisioning the five of you over this. I just thought you ought to know that I took what I thought your decision would be into account when I did this. It’s just another thing for my own little black book, that I can write down and completely forget about, just like Grandpa used to do. And if your folks don’t approve, well, they can come down here and take it up with me – assuming they haven’t taken it up with you first.

Anyway, that’s all the news I have for you today (especially considering this was yesterday’s activity). Take care of yourself, keep an eye out for me (and Daniel), and continue to wish me luck – I’m going to need it.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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