It has become a kind of summer ritual - getting on the fast ferry with my grandkids and leaving “The Rock” for a few hours on a mid-July day to go shopping on the mainland. We join the masses who are leaving behind their vacation respite on the island and we head for “America.” The ritual has changed little over the last few years. It usually manages to fall on the hottest, sunniest, most humid day in July. We enjoy the cool breeze as the ferry speeds toward its destination. And then, suddenly, we are disembarking into sizzling heat and humidity again.
First stop - Friendly’s! and a cool Fribble! Years ago, there were giggles about blowing bubbles in the milkshake with a straw. Now the conversation turns to the number of calories in each menu offering, the size of the portions and whether or not it is possible to make a healthy choice here for a mid-morning snack.
Next stop - Staples! and a quick run through to see what is needed in anticipation of the beginning of the school year. Here the seductive items used to be the biggest boxes of crayons or markers, the Pink Pony pencil boxes and blank note books. Now the electronics section is the big draw - - and there are many comments about the high prices.
On to Walmart! The inexpensive DVDs used to be the big draw -and there was always a challenging bit of time in the toy section. Now the conversation runs toward the shabby quality of much of the merchandise and how do people live on the wages they earn making so much stuff that has so little value.
No trip off island is complete without stops at TJMAXX and The Christmas Tree Shoppe. By the end of our shopping tour, we’re all tired and feeling overwhelmed by all the lures of consumption. The kids compare what life is like on the island - trying to live “normal” lives in the presence of so much excess and unthinking wealth.
As I ponder the expedition on the return trip to the island, I realize that these annual excursions have, indeed, been an educational process for both me and my grandkids. Whereas the political and economical commentary used to come from me as we made our way through the massive offerings on sale, now the grandkids are pondering the questions of why there is SO much. They are reading labels and beginning to understand that there are exploited human beings hidden in the shadows of the low prices. They are beginning to blanch at the price of a small Fribble that has virtually no nutritional value. Little by little their adolescent dreaminess is awakening to questions about our values and about how we spend our money and about what happens when we are not consciously aware of how we participate in the injustice of poverty and inadequate wages and the ability to afford nutritious food that is not fried!
Meanwhile, back in Washington, political minds seek ways to cut supplemental nutritional assistance programs for people who already cannot afford to put food on the table for their families. Saving money by getting the poor off of medical assistance programs seems to be the way to go. Cutting health care for poor pregnant women will make a huge difference in the money Washington has to give to the more deserving wealthy folks at the top.
It is a good day for listening to the voice of the prophet Amos echoing down through the ages: Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions and for four, I will not revoke the punishment: they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes - they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way.... (Amos 2:6-7).
But all is not hopeless. There are a few courageous voices of resistance. Somewhere in Washington the prophet still speaks. May we pray that the prophetic voice will get louder with each passing day.