Monday, September 20, 2010

If I Were A Rich Man

Yesterday a man said to a rather large assembly of people of which I was a part, “I am not a rich man.” As this statement was made, the man stood well dressed and apparently well nourished. He spoke these words freely in his capacity as someone who is gainfully employed full time. These words echoed through his workspace, a place that has walls and a roof, temperature controls to shield him from the deadly heat of the Texas summer, the drenching rains of the frequent gulf storms and the cold chill of those frigid winter days, and it has running water and indoor plumbing. He arrives at this place each day in an equally well appointed luxury car. But, he says that he is not a rich man.

It was all I could do to keep from laughing aloud at this ridiculous utterance. I then thought that perhaps I should ask, “Well then, are you a poor man?” Had I been bold enough to make this inquiry, I suspect that it would have been perceived as a sarcastic remark. Admittedly, I am capable of sarcasm at the drop of the hat, but that is really not what I was thinking. I honestly wonder if there is anything between rich and poor. To me, it is like being pregnant – either you are or you're not. Nothing exists between the two.

I realize that this is a rather black and white picture of the issue. In an effort to not be so quick to jump to conclusions, I did some research on the state of being rich and being poor..

In the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, a rich man does not have to work hard all day. He lives in a big tall house with rooms by the dozen right in the middle of town.This house has a fine tin roof with real wooden floors below. His house has one long staircase just going up and one even longer coming down, and one more leading nowhere, just for show. The yard is filled with animals whose squeals announce to the neighbors that this is indeed the home of a wealthy man. This man has a wife who sports a double chin, the mark of a wealthy man’s wife, and who struts around like a peacock while screaming at the servants day and night.

According to Tevye, to a rich man would come the most important men in town seeking advice. One with wealth is revered like Solomon the Wise. And so says Tevye, it doesn’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong. When you're rich, they think you really know!A rich man also has time to sit in the synagogue and pray. And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall. He has time to discuss the holy books with the learned men several hours every day.

The dictionary says that a rich man has wealth or great possessions; he is abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds. That is perhaps the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Tevye’s description.

To most, the familiar understanding of “poor” is having very little money, goods, or means of support. It also means faulty, inferior, or lacking. “Poor” may be understood as deficient, inadequate, or lacking in moral excellence.

Though the “not rich” man mentioned above does not have a double-chinned wife running screaming at servants or a yard full of noise making animals, neither is he lacking in money, goods, or a means of support. He lives much closer to the description of rich than he does poor. He may only be living in the first trimester of richness, but by all accounts, he is rich. To claim otherwise is an outright lie. To claim otherwise is to show a lack of understanding as to what rich and poor really are. To claim otherwise is to proclaim oneself as ignorant to the plight of those way too many in this world are truly poor.

Perhaps what he meant to say is that he is not rich in understanding, or compassion, or truth.