I just returned from the local clinic — some routine bloodwork. As I drove in our driveway I saw my son’s sling for his broken wrist draped across a chair. And, of course, our friend in the ICU is always on my mind. Three folks, three different circumstances. Just three out of a hundred I could search out in my immediate circle of acquaintances, all needing medical care, none able to pay for it on their own if they didn’t have insurance.
Something is wrong here. How much is it costing our poor, unconscious friend in that chamber of machines over in Fargo? A hundred thousand dollars? A half a million dollars? A jillion dollars? Who knows? And who beyond an occasional shiek or Enron executive could actually pay? Auto accidents and strokes do not happen only the wealthy, yet the costs of treatment are beyond comprehension. Then there are the college kids who can’t afford any health insurance and either must rely on the statistical likelihood of someone their age staying healthy, or they have to scam on some system meant for the truly indigent. Problem is, in the face of medical expenses, we are all rendered truly indigent.
I am constantly mystified by how we can be so out of alignment as a society that people are reduced to being more afraid of getting sick than of being sick. What happens to our politicians when they get elected that they forget the fundamental human values of caring for our brothers and sisters? Do they suddenly become ideologues or heartless human beings or mere totters of economic ciphers? Do a few expense account lunches with lobbyists make them think that laser-guided missiles are more important than health care for our children? Or do they truly believe the P.R. ooga booga about “socialized medicine” and “Canadian-style health care?” The fact is, we could solve this if we chose to. But, instead of saying, “We, as a society, can do this,” we say, “We, as a society, cannot afford to do this.” It seems to be the one place where optimism is supplanted by a dour, small-minded caution.
I find it tremendously upsetting that an entire generation has been taught that they are not their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. But who can blame them for believing this? They cannot even afford to keep themselves. But we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. It is our human responsibility to care for the young, the sick, and the elderly. And some of those responsibilities are so large we must hand them over to the broader community, which, in contemporary society, means the government.
I cannot build roads. I cannot repair bridges. I cannot build school buildings. I cannot provide medical care for the sick or care for the elderly. These responsibilities, must, by necessity, become part of a common responsibility. Wanting to keep all my own money and pay none for the common good is, at best, an unthinking response to the fear that my own money is not enough to take care of my own needs. At its worst, it is a selfish belief that I don’t have to share. An infantile response, if ever there was one.
As I walked out of the clinic, an old woman in her mid-eighties was right behind me, moving unsteadily in her walker. Her hands were knotted and covered with liver spots. Her ankles were swollen and her right hand shook with a palsied tremor. I could no more have walked through that door and let it slam shut on her than I could have kicked her walker and knocked her over. Yet slamming the door on people like her is exactly what our society is doing in the name of tax relief and high-minded bassoonings about self reliance.
I don’t care where you look for your spiritual guidance — Jesus, Gautama Buddha, Black Elk, Mohammed, or anywhere else. Somewhere in there is a belief that the strong help the weak, the rich help the poor, the fortunate lift up those who have fallen.
Maybe it’s time our elected leaders re-read the Beatitudes rather than running around waving some out-of date old flag that says, “Don’t tread on me.”