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  • Reverend James Squire

An Antidote to Being Entitled

I was struck by a front page article in the Inquirer (9/23/21) with the title “Beach and Moan.”

This summer in Ocean City, New Jersey was the summer of discontent. People were on vacation again and shore towns were thriving, but there were constant complaints about flies, teenagers, the direction of the wind, the cost of ice cream to name just a few including customers complained that there was not enough air conditioning in a store that was receiving a constant sea breeze. Customers seemed to have an attitude. One store owner employed her children because workers were hard to find. She said, “One of her children who is 13 has autism which is very obvious. He didn’t make mistakes. They were rushing him.” These strangers to the shore seemed to be in the quest for perfection at every level. A sense of entitlement was pervasive.

It is ironic that before reading that story, I had been reflecting on an article by George Will that appeared on May 4, 2012 in The Chicago Tribune. George Will is a conservative journalist, author, and one of the nation’s resident intellectuals. If you read one of his columns, his vocabulary requires you to have a dictionary nearby to learn the meaning of some of the words he uses. This article that I had read was not the usual stuff. It was to celebrate Jon Will’s Gift. Jon is George’s oldest son who is now 50 and a person with Down Syndrome. At the time of Jon’s birth doctors thought that George and his wife would just put him in an institution or have someone adopt him. That was a prevailing attitude 40 years ago. As I indicated, he is now 50. The Wills never gave it any thought and Jon became part of their family. He was the first born.

Will’s article pointed out that there was another group of strangers who did not feel the same as the entitled visitors to the shore who focused on what they didn’t have in the quest for a perfect life experience.

Will wrote in celebration of his son, Jon, the following: “Judging by Jon the world would be improved by more people with Down Syndrome who are quite nice, as humans go. It is said we are born brave, trusting, and greedy, and remain greedy. People with Down Syndrome must remain brave in order to navigate society’s complexities. They have no choice but to be trusting because, with limited understanding, and limited abilities to communicate misunderstanding, they, like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, always depend on the kindness of strangers. Judging by Jon’s experience, they almost always receive it.”

George Will’s experience of living with his son, Jon, is a modern-day version of the story of the Good Samaritan. In that parable those strangers who you think will come to help like those at the beach, don’t, but we can receive help from those who we may not think will come forward such professional athletes who help Jon as another kind of stranger. When we are helped by those from whom we don’t expect assistance, we are experiencing grace. In theological terms grace is captured by always feeling “there but for the grace of God go I.” It’s living with gratitude.

Jon has a job with the Washington Nationals baseball team. He takes the subway to the Nationals ballpark arriving a few hours before a game to do his simple chores. The players have been uniformly and extraordinarily welcoming to Jon. The players are gifted in many ways and have climbed to the top of their endeavors on the playing field. Perhaps because the players are gifted by society’s standards, they can see the unique gifts of Jon not demonstrated on the playing field but present on the field of life. They know what he has to go through each day and see that he still possesses the cherished gifts of being brave and trusting. There is a paradox here. Jon will never write a column on the merits of conservatism. However, George Will feels that his son has the greatest job in the world since George is a great baseball fan. Whoever thought that a group of professional athletes who get their share of bad press could be strangers who possess the characteristics of respecting and helping Jon in similar fashion as the Good Samaritan.

Blanche Dubois, who is mentally ill and broken by the world says this in Tennessee Williams’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire: “I always depend on the kindness strangers.” It is one of my favorite lines from that play. I now hope that through people like Jon and the character, Blanche, we realize only people with bravery and a trusting spirit can speak this important line. That makes someone gifted in a special way, brave and trusting. It strikes me that Ocean City could use more of that essence of Jon among its visitors and strangers next summer. It seems to me that Jon, his family, and the Nationals live from a place of gratitude for the gifts they do have. I hope gratitude which usually cancels out entitlement will be more present in the lives of the strangers who descend on Ocean City next summer. If Jon and his family visit there, it may be more likely to occur.

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