My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

As Long as You Have Your Health

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

Growing up where I did in Massachusetts, my parents had a couple run-ins with James Taylor. For a time we lived near him, but I still don’t care for most of his music. That being said, the words to some of his songs still resonate with me to this day. Even taken out of context, they seem to have a power that makes them live on their own.

A couple weeks ago I spent several days tooling around the area where both Kela and I graduated from high school. When we lived in the area it was fairly well off. Now, with the median household income nearing $100,000 and the median home price closing in on $300,000, it is safe to say that it is quite an affluent area. And it was in one of my retracing of old haunts that I realized how insulated that area is from most of the country. In the middle of a recessions their restaurants overflow, their Bentley and Porsche dealerships flourish and, even in the most deprived areas, they still seem very comfortable by national standards.

Spending time in a city like such as that, I can understand why some people don’t grasp the weight of poverty that smothers so many in this county. I would like to stereotype them as people who think that the poor are those who can’t afford organic food or drive cars with dents in them; that their biggest gift back to the world was that trip to Africa where they traded food and medicine to anyone who would accept Jesus as their lord and savior; or as people who never had to explain to a child why it needed to sleep through their hunger, but that would not be fair. You cannot judge someone by what they have never had the chance to learn. Instead, I fault our ever increasing segregation into socioeconomic classes, devoid of class mobility, and encouraged by companies catering to those specific sects. We have become a society who does not want to be reminded of those we’ve left behind.

From my generation back to the baby boomers, we are at best one generation out and two thoughts away from any true understanding of hardship. For the most part, we don’t go places in this country where they are likely to see it pain, suffering or poverty. Sure we may encounter a homeless mother on the street, but they will never see where and how she and her children live. We no longer understand what poverty means to them.

So maybe a quick reminder is due: Poverty and its outcomes are hunger and the lack of shelter. It’s the knowledge that if you get sick without insurance, it will mean living on the streets. Real poverty is not having access to school, not knowing how to read, not having or being able to find a job, having an all-consuming fear of the future, living one day at a time or losing a child or family member to illness brought about by living conditions. Real poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and an absence of freedom.

When I see people speak up against nationalized health care, I wonder who these people think that this is for. Do they honestly think that people don’t want to work, want to live off of the system and are truly a mass of degenerates who deserve nothing but our scorn? These are real people, stuck within a system that we created and support, and whose numbers are expanding at an extraordinarily fast rate. Every day, former middle-class Americans, previous neighbors of you and I, become part of their numbers. Of course no one knows that because they are forced out of their communities, to places their former neighbors would never visit, to be forgotten and treated as soulless government welfare recipients.

Ted Kennedy died this week. He died before having a chance to see his lifelong goal of health care for all Americans become a reality. And it was during one of the blisteringly long memorandums televised in his honor that Fire and Rain, performed by Boston born James Taylor, was played in the background of rotating stills of Kennedy’s life. Inappropriate as I found the touted connection, the words struck me as poignant.

Even though I’ve lived a life of reasonable comfort and have done what I could to pass that on to others, I have seen true poverty, I have seen politics, organizations and well-meaning individuals fail to save the weakest among us, I know the smell of depravity as it heads toward the inevitable and I have seen death for sheer lack of powerlessness. Still through all that I have seen and experienced, I always thought that when called upon, we as a country would come together, rise up as one and reach out to help those in need, one more time again. Now I’m not so sure.

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