It’s one of those days that my calendar has an extended period of time and so I choose to fill it with writing. Every morning, I rise, answer the Hub’s question — “Watchya doin’ Tarli?” — go downstairs, take my probiotics, set the timer for 30minutes, and write. It doesn’t matterwhat I write. I give myself permission to write junk. Words help me to process, to think and express my emotions. I can brainstorm any project, work out resolutions, let my characters talk, or describe a scene I’ve having difficulty extracting from my head. I complain, celebrate, but never censor. I write.
With entended time and ticked boxes on my list, I enjoy a good run. This morning, I wrote past and started to hunger for lunch. But I chose to keep writing. The UPS man delivered a box and that broke my thoughts. My tummy rumbled. I hadn’t yet had black tea. Soon it would be time to go help at the yoga studio my SIL is opening May 1. I almost felt finished. I wrote on.
Satisfied, I thought maybe I could use what I wrote as a post. When I copied it over to edit and revise, I realised it was over 5,000 words. Ugh. Easier to write a 1,000 than edit five times as much. While writing, an interesting phrase popped up that caused me to wonder — beggars can’t be choosers.
By definition, it’s a proverb, meaning that those with no other options must be content with what is offered.
But is it true that we have no other options? Who tells us we must be content? Those who took away the options? The phrases felt jarring and I recognized it as old programing from the environment in which I was raised. I see it’s essence in the lack of compassion people have today for the hardships of others. I better understand how cleverly crafted the phrase is to let injustice stand because the victims have no other choice than to accept what is. I can imagine greedy capitalists hiding behind the proverb as if their meager handouts bring satisfaction, making them righteous and right. Take what’s left from the raping of the land — be content with your lot — beggars can’t be chosers.
While I’m not going to share my 5k mind explorations, I can say why it came up.
We are preparing for the Hub’s knee replacement surgery on April 22. He destroyed his knee on a bad jump into Grenada in 1983. It pained him and locked up after that but he soldiered on and the military took no interest in his gait, altered mood, and trouble with cognition. The jump that bashed his knee also smacked his head, twice. This less than a week after he was knocked out cold in a base game of soccer. I was processing all we’ve been through since a doctor proclaimed in 1987 that he needed a total knee replacement. Only, no insurance would cover it and the VA denied it. What they denied then, we got them to finally service connect in 2016 after we filed in 2014. I also wanted them to check his head. Something was wrong.
Almost 36 years after the injury, one that has caused a multitude of problems, the Hub is getting his knee replacement. Beggars can’t be choosers. In other words, he’s had to be content with “no other options.” And I’m not going to write another 5,000 words on what I think about that.
Because I come back to the same conclusion and three empowering words:
We have choices.
Always. We always have choices. Suspect those who say you don’t. What are they trying to rob you of? In 1862 when the Dakota tribe of Minnesota was starving, three teens chose to go looking for food. A Norwegien family who did not speak English feared the natives when they rode up to their farm, asking for eggs. Begging. But asking nonetheless. The teens didn’t set out to start a war that day. They chose to ask their nbeighbors for food. But beggars can’t be choosers, so the frightened farmer grabbed a rifle and shot over their heads to run them off. Historians can debate who robbed whom first — some will say the treaties for land favored the Dakota; others will bring up the shady dealings of the traders who intercepted the treaty money with claims that the tribe owed them money for goods. The boys that day never robbed the farmer. They asked. But in the heat of the moment, the rising anger, the sense of being born to land their ancestors once owned but now failed to feed their hungry bellies — the beggers rebelled, retatiated and killed the farmer and his family.
We always have choice. It doesn’t mean we choose well or smart. It doesn’t mean the world must be just first. It doesn’t mean we will act with justice. Accountability is acknowledging our capacity of choice and taking responsibility for our actions. Accountability can also mean deciding to make better choices next time.
Little Crow, as leader of the Dakota, had a choice to make. He deliberated over whether or not to hand over the teens to US authority. He had made multiple trips to Washington DC on behalf of his people, explaining their predicament, asking that the treaties be honored. He was told money would come “soon.” It never did. Aid never came, either. But more immigrants from Europe crowded the land where his people tried to adapt to farming, but cut worms killed their 1861 crops. They even adapted to the language and religion. Little Crow was Christian but politicians in power regarded them as savages. He was leader of his starving tribe and the center of unacknowledged injustice. His ribs were emaciated. Beggars can’t be choosers.
When the anuities for the tribe never came, and the stores refused to let Little Crow take food on credit, he reportedly said, “Starving men will help themselves.” Sometimes choices are forced, which is why the proverb tries to teach those at their lowest to be content. But it is human to rise after getting knocked down. Little Crow did not turn over the teens to authorities. Neither did he agree that war was the answer. He deliberated and chose to go to war with the US instead of hunting buffalo. During the Civil War, the Dakota attacked Minnesota and won several of their battles. They also killed many settlers, graves I have visited, battefields, I’ve seen, wondering about the fool choices of an expanding nation that pressured a tribe to draw first blood.
Little Crow survived the battles. The Dakota were rounded up — every woman, child, elder and warrior — and imprisoned. President Lincoln commuted the death sentence for hundreds of warriors but on Christmas Eve (remember, this was a cultural group who had adopted Christianity so they understood the holiday) 36 men were hung in front of their families and tribe. Years later, while picking raspberries with his grandson, Little Crow was aprehended by men from a nearby town, hung, shot and drug behind a wagon with firecrackers in his nostrils for the cheers of the town who felt he was a monster for not knowing his place as a beggar.
And how did I come upon these cheerful thoughts? It was the dilema of a bed that got me thinking of the phrase. You see, the Hub will have surgery and require weeks of home care during recovery. We are guests inour daughter’s home, and not to belittle all they have provided for us, but we don’t even have our own bed. The one we use is an antique and so tall that I have to use a box to get on top. It will be impossible for the Hub post-surgery. When we received the list of alterations we needed make, I felt like we had no choice and that phrase popped into mind.
I corrected my thinking. I have choices. I don’t have to go without or settle for what is offered or be content with what won’t work. I looked through the local classified and did not find what we needed or wanted. I turned to Amazon and found a beautiful bedframe with sturdy steel slats and a low (but not too low) height. It was in our price range, too. It meant we would have to choose not to do something else, but that’s for later. Choices are empowering.
Our task might be less so, but I think this topic is worthy to explore.
April 11, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.” You can play with the words, alter them or interpret them without using the phrase. Give it any slant you want — show what it means or add to its meaning. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by April 16, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Smart Beggars (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Danni overheard the receptionist say. She had stopped by the division office to resupply the fire-camp. Her grimy skin felt foul as her temper. Danni would set that uppity woman straight.
When Mavis hung up, Danni asked, “Who’s that?”
“Oh, hi, Danni. You look a fright.”
“I’m taking back the new supplies.”
“The ones that didn’t arrive?”
Danni slumped. “What will we do,” she mumbled.
Mavis answered brightly, “Beggars can’t be choosers, but Daddy raised no fool. I just sweet-talked old Jeb at DNR to find a roundabout way for us. Beggars can be smart.”