According to a survey conducted by the Museum of the American Revolution, “more than 50 percent of Americans wrongly attributed the quote ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ to either George Washington, Thomas Paine, or Barack Obama.”

But the original quote, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” came from Karl Marx, actually.

My father Zenshu Shimabukuro had his own version of this: “Everybody give what they can, everybody take only what they need, but also, you gotta watch out; when rich people say, ‘We go kompan (share), they mean, ‘I’d like to take all yours, too.’”
Sound like a mixed message from Dad? It was. Still is. But it worked in our family. The bottom line of his message was, within the family everybody gave their money to Mom; she would do the distribution.

Dad had given up all his rights to controlling the money after he once dropped a whole paycheck buying a round or two with his friends at a bar. On paydays, Mom sometimes would drag a few of the younger siblings along on the bus to pick up his paycheck, and we would go around paying bills and buying some food.

We had this family against the capitalist mentality in order to survive. Dad was a strong labor unionist, and would demonstrate the “all for one, one for all” mentality with one chopstick, breaking one easily, then grabbing a fistful of chopsticks, handing it over to someone, challenging him/her, “Now, try break this. No can break? See how strong?”

So “kompan” with the working class must have been OK, as he had demonstrated in the bar.

In Okinawan and Japanese culture, the oldest son inherited everything. If the family was rich, he got everything. If the family had debts, well, he inherited the debts. My oldest brother Tom did that: worked his butt off and paid off all the family’s debts. Tom, my oldest sister Toki and another older brother Roy, all helped the younger ones graduate from college, start businesses and send the next generation through college also. They also helped with the down payments of all the homes purchased in the family.

So what does this have to do with health and elders?

In late-April I went to Virginia to help out my sister Toki, who since June 2012, has been caring for my younger sister Ann during the day. Ann suffered a major stroke in January 2012, and had returned home after six months in the hospital and rehab facilities. More health worries came earlier this year; Tom had a couple of what were termed “diabetes incidents,” which means he passed out from too-low blood sugar.

John, Ann’s fiancé, is there in the evenings and weekends. Ann’s children Carlos and Marisela stop by often to help with some chores, but as John says, “They need to get on with their own lives,” and they both work full-time. So while John is at work, Toki is at the house with both Tom and Ann.

So I went there to help Toki. One day got very complicated, even though we were simply taking Tom to the clinic and eating lunch afterwards. It took us a half-hour to get Ann and Tom into Toki’s car, about another half-hour to get to the lab (Ann was in a wheelchair, Tom had a walker). Then we drove to this small restaurant with parking in the back, but Toki decided it was easier for Tom and Ann to enter the front of the establishment rather than the back. There was a “no stopping” zone on the street in front of the restaurant, but she stopped the car suddenly and said, “OK, quick Bob, see if you can get them out of the car before the light turns green.”

Talk about an adrenaline rush. I got Tom out first, and as soon as he was slowly walking to the restaurant, I reached for Ann’s walker and held it steady for her to grab. The light turned green, we started backing up traffic and somebody tooted their horn. I was about to flip my finger, but I thought I better pay attention to Ann rather than the honker.

We made it inside, had a good lunch (although I was concerned that Tom ordered a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and azuki beans) and realized after we left why Toki felt it necessary to go through the front. There were about eight steep steps to go up to the parking lot in back. There was no way we could have walked down those stairs to the restaurant.

I know that lots of families are doing the best they can to take care of each other and are feeling as pressured as our family sometimes does, if not more.  The “Zenshu” philosophy may work for our family now, but I know that there will be a point in the future where the situation could become overwhelming for us. Other families may have already reached that point. We all need to develop a societal response to the aging of our population, because the 1 percent with the resources don’t care and will not do this for us.

Believe me. Now is not the time to cut back on what we have now.

(To be continued)

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