I was in high school when the toilet paper shortage of 1974 struck America.
We had just gone through the energy shortage in January where there were gas lines while people waited to fill their tank. There were odd/even days to get gas. The gas lines created confusion. One person thought they got into a gas line. It turned out to be a funeral procession.
There were other shortages that began to pop up. As Spring came, one late-night comedian joked that the next shortage we’ll have will be toilet paper. Suddenly, people were hoarding toilet paper. Stores had to limit purchases to two rolls per person. June came and life got back to normal.
As you know, Covid 19 sparked a toilet paper shortage. I was in a store and watched people fill their carts with two cases of toilet paper. (I think they had two cases because their cart wouldn’t hold three.)By the time I was able to reach the shelves, they were bare. I was on the phone with my sister who was encouraging me to ask a customer to share one of her two cases of toilet paper. I may practice a lot of Dale Carnegie, but I’m also not stupid. I envisioned the customer telling me off and it not ending well. I went to the store the next day and the shelves were still bare. I stopped at two more stores and there was no toilet paper to be found.
Hoarding reminds me of the phrase, “I’ve got mine – go get yours.” It’s not a pretty expression. It’s selfish. It’s not very faith-filled. It says, “I figured out how to get my toilet paper. You’ll have to figure out how to get yours. You’re on your own.”
Jesus challenged us to love our neighbor as our self. What does that look like when we are living through the unchartered territory from a global perspective? What does it mean to love our neighbor when we already have 72 rolls of toilet paper at home and are purchasing another 72 rolls, just in case (just in case of what)?
During my time scouring stores for toilet paper, I was taken back to one of my favorite Christmas movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Let me take you into the scene.
George Bailey and Mary had just gotten married. They are in a taxi heading to the train station when Ernie, the driver sees a run on the Bailey Savings and Loan Bank. George rushes to the bank where he learns Uncle Billy has locked the door. Mr. Potter calls to inquire if they’ve closed the bank. The doors are unlocked, and the people rush in. One person shouts “Potter is paying 50 cents on the dollar. Something is better than nothing.” An older gentleman comes to the teller window and asks for all his money. George asks him how much he really needs and he says, “All $242.00.” George says it is just a loan. Then an older woman comes up to the window. I need to tell you, Frank Capra, the director, loved spontaneity in his movies. He doesn’t tell the woman how much to ask for. He leaves it up to her. George asks her how much she needs and she says, “Can I get $17.50?” George reaches across the counter and gives her a kiss.
Isn’t that how we should behave in these times? How much do we really need? Is it “all of it” or“$17.50”? It’s the best way to love our neighbors as ourselves. I’ll be back in two weeks. Until then, live well my friend.
Rev. Tony Marciano is the President/CEO of the Charlotte Rescue Mission. He is available to speak to your group. Go to www.charlotterescuemission.org and go to contact us- just ask for Pam.