Author’s Note: I wrote this article in 2009, and given experiences several of my friends and family have had in the past year, I felt as though I wanted to republish this article as a reminder.
My friend, Rindy’s parents just got her death certificate in the mail. As I read the details, I realized that on this piece of paper, her data and vital statistics were just numbers and letters. The description of what happened to her, a record of events not related to the actual emotional experience of that particularly horrific day.
One of my other students, one I have known since she was in seventh grade, just wrote about her friend who has cystic tumors on multiple organs in her body. At a spiritual level, I am praying for her, but I can’t help but go to that place where I am assessing the medical viability of this poor child. It helps me to distance myself from the tragedy her parents are experiencing right now.
On a larger scale, I can’t help but think that our debate about health care reform is just like these situations. We are standing on ideologies, philosophies, and mental judgement about people’s lives to maintain our intellectual distance. Of course, we can’t simply respond to our emotional selves, placating our strong desire to save everyone from the pits of hellish disease and agony. I must wonder, however, when it was that we lost our permission to be compassionate human beings with regard to this question? When did we decide, and a decision it was, to release ourselves from seeing each and every person in our country as a whole person?
Every dollar that goes to health care does not only go to a hospital, or physician, or technician. Every penny represents a human life that is in crisis. Every dime eases the pain of a child or maintains the dignity of an elderly person who is watching her life slip away. Each nickel is a banner waving in our war against chronic pain, epidemiological outbreaks, and insidious cancer.
I am nearly debilitated by our forgetfulness of these truths in this debate. We continue to talk about dollars as though these pieces of paper and shards of metal are what this discussion is about. It’s not. It never has been.
Be reasonable. Be accountable. Destroy fraud; but we must do these things with someone’s face always at the forefront of our minds. Remember your father who died of Alzheimers Disease. Remember your mother who died of pancreatic cancer. Remember your daughter who died of leukemia. Remember your son who died of poor prenatal care. Remember the pale woman on the street, whose wisps of hair flutter in the breeze beneath her silken kerchief wrapped loosely on her head.
Every time we forget these people, our brothers and sisters, we have bastardized the purpose of the health care system. Every time we are angry at the legislators for not focusing on costs and income, we become the monsters that walk hand-in-hand with the cells that destroy our bodies. Every time we arrogantlly chant that people should pay for their own insurance, even when they don’t have a job or health enough to maintain work, we become that against which we fight so hard… a tumor that ravages the body of society.
Remember a face… any face… and only then begin the debate about health care reform.
The poignancy of entertainer extraordinaire, Michael Jackson’s death, the resignation of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and the family scandal of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, while extremely different events, remind me of the humanity that must be recognized about our celebrities.
As we peer through the glass of our televisions and computer screens onto the countenance of one luminary after another, we tend to forget that they are whole human beings, as flawed, gifted and sometimes confused as any of us in the mundane world of suburbia.
Each of these individuals are parents. Their children are so deeply affected by the events surrounding their famous father or mother, that we cannot fully assess what that impact is, yet. The challenge is, of course, that none of these people, particularly Mr. Jackson, will be able to do much about it by the time the issues fully fulmigate.
There have been several articles written in this blog about the need for compassion at a variety of levels. There seems to be a bit developing in some arenas; however, we are still focused on consuming every scrap of information thrown to us, like hogs scurrying for their slop.
Is it possible for us to step back, even for a moment, and call out to ourselves for restraint and compassion? I certainly hope so, if not for ourselves and the energetic quality of our spirit, but for our children. They are learning how to be from whom they see us choosing to be.
Remember, my friends, that behind each face lies a mind that holds sweet and bitter memories just like ours.
Behind each toned or surgically altered chest, beats a fragile, insistent heart that loves and is made sad in the same way ours are.
Under their feet lies the dirt of thousands of miles they have trodden on their paths, exactly in the same way we find the dust on our sandals, as well.
In the same way that 50 is the new 30, and gay is the new Black, compassion could be the new vision.
I wonder if it will catch on?
As someone who loves history, I have to ask the question, “What exact day was it that it became acceptable to live one way behind closed doors and another in the public arena?”
Those of us who have been around for awhile know the answer to this question: “It’s always been this way.” The challenge for many now, however, is that with the burgeoning of worldwide media and our willingness to release the taboos of what we discuss, we are seeing ourselves for who we truly are.
With the most recent revelation that the Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina went to see his mistress, Maria, in Argentina, our news media have glommed onto the storyline that the Republicans have again had to face another scandal. Interestingly enough, because we are realizing that this is an all too common situation, we are finding excuses to continue reporting it nonetheless. Specifically, the concern about leaving the state without leadership during his absence has become the hue and cry from reporters.
That, frankly, is balderdash. The truth is, we want to skewer and grill this man for his infidelity. The shame in all of this is not so much that Governor Sanford was unfaithful, it is more that he is reflecting our national values in the open air.
His wife, First Lady Jenny Sanford, has been dealing with Governor Sanford’s infidelity for quite some time. Now, she is having to contend with his public apology and the ramifications of having the most deeply personal part of her life discussed by strangers in the media. It is an intimate matter between the two of them. Certainly, his indiscretion affects his state; however, on the marital front, it is solely between the Sanfords as a married couple. It is none of our business.
Since time immemorial, one spouse has been cheating on another spouse. In some cultures, it was done openly and accepted as part of the general marriage agreement. In other cultures, it is understood that this would happen, with the sole caveat that the wife should never see or hear about the mistress. Generally, it is men that have these permissions; however, in some places, it is equally acceptable for men and women to have dalliances with others while married to their spouse.
Our puritanical beginnings here in the United States of America have provided us a rationale to stand in pompous judgment over those who currently choose to be unfaithful. The ironic part of this is when one of the loudest voices bellowing the chastisements is found to be committing the same disrespect against their spouse.
Our hypocrisy has risen to a new level of absurdity in this first decade of the twenty-first century. We are still startled and disquieted by others’ decisions to have intimate relations with people outside of their marriage.
When are we going to recognize that this is far more common than we are willing to state out loud? When are we going to accept that fidelity is a voluntary action that not everyone is willing or able to maintain? What will inspire us to decide that a couple’s decisions behind closed doors regarding what they will or will not accept in the marriage is between the two of them and no one else?
I value monogamy. I now live monogamously. That hasn’t always been the case, but it was a choice I made for myself a long time ago. I do not, however, expect anyone else to live this same way, nor do I judge them as lesser or worse for choosing to live without fidelity in their marriage, so long as both people are aware of what is happening.
My issue comes from the lack of integrity that is being shown and the dismissal of personal responsibility for those around the people who choose to live mendacious lives. I will not stand before anyone’s Creator to answer for their actions; therefore, I cannot wave my gavel and strike it on their souls based on evaluations rooted in my belief system.
Governor and First Lady Sanford must choose their own lives as they see fit, as we must all do. As a people, our only concerns should be the running of the government and the choices we make as individuals and couples. That’s all.
I propose that we look to our own lives to assess if, first, we are acting in a manner consistent with the beliefs we genuinely espouse, second, we ask ourselves whether our external personæ match our internal veracity, and third, we stand in compassionate support of those who are struggling in these areas.
If we are doing these three things, then our values and views on the world will be strengthened. As it stands right now, we are like ravenous vultures looking to pick apart those who have stumbled in their own value system, as we all do from time to time.
Ultimately, it comes down to the query whether the face we see in the mirror is the same face that is being seen by our brothers and sisters. If it is, then, I suspect, we are in great shape. If not, then we must look at ourselves again.
Compassionate understanding should be the real news. That would certainly shake things up pretty dramatically.