By Mark Rozema
Let me start with the most important part of this note, in case you read no further:
Jeff Flake (Arizona): 202-224-4521
Ben Sasse (Nebraska): 202-224-4224
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska): 202-224-6665
Cory Gardner (Colorado): 202-224-5941
Mike Lee (Utah): 202-224-5444
Susan Collins (Maine): 202-224-2523
Probably every extended family I know has someone in it—perhaps multiple people—with cancer.
Do you have a relative or friend with multiple sclerosis? Cerebral palsy? Alzheimers?
Most families I know have someone in them who is entering the final stage of life. It’s likely this person takes numerous insanely expensive medications—daily.
In most every family I know, there is a child (maybe your child, or niece, or nephew, or grandchild) who has a learning disability, or a physical disability.
Diabetes, anyone? Mental illness?
I can’t even begin to list all the people I know who have struggled with depression and/or anxiety and at some point needed medication or counseling.
Do you know a family in which everyone is free of pre-existing conditions? What kind of family would that be?
(What does it even mean to be free of pre-existing conditions? How is that possible?)
Look! A family that doesn’t need any help. An All-American family! Put them on a poster.
A family of personal responsibility (and mighty good luck)—in which everyone is employed in jobs with benefits. A fully independent family—just like Independence Day.
I don’t know any families like that.
(Damn those pre-existing conditions! Couldn’t your parents have been more responsible in their gene-mixing?)
The families of senators must be different. Or maybe just their coverage is different.
The people I know? Well, some live in places like rural Alaska. They work hard, but not in the kind of jobs that come with health care benefits.
When rural clinics close, they will have to fly to Anchorage every time. Gotta pay the airfare as well as the hospital bill. Or—just suck it up when they are sick.
Some have kids with cancer or other life-long health challenges. Those kids will have a pre-existing condition for the rest of their lives. Might as well tattoo inescapable debt on their foreheads.
Some live in the city, but cobble together an income from several part-time jobs that don’t offer insurance. Many won’t buy insurance.
Well, it’s their choice not to buy it, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will say. That’s what America is all about. Choice. Personal responsibility.
It will be their choice. Just as it is a choice I make, daily, not to buy a yacht. Guess enjoying the ocean is not my priority.
What is my priority? I know what I hope for my children—and all children–as they inherit this mess we are, unfortunately, giving them. I hope they are lucky enough to sink roots in a community of family, friends, and neighbors.
I hope they live in a community and a country where they matter, where everybody matters, and where taking care of other people and other creatures is understood not only as a responsibility, but as a blessing and a grace.
Independence Day is great. I’m all for independence. I’m also in favor of inter-dependence. Do we have a holiday for that?
So far, I’m not saying anything new, and this frustrates me a little bit. I feel like a new thing needs to be said. I’m searching for it. Then again, maybe we don’t need a new thing; maybe we just need to pay heed to words that have already been said.
Like these, from the farmer Wendell Berry: Use cannot be exempt from care. And these, from some guy who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago: A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
So…Happy 4th of July, a few days early. On the 4th, my choice will be to go up into the mountains to escape all the explosions. We each choose our own way to celebrate, I suppose.
Just as we all find our own ways to celebrate, we may all choose a different notion of patriotism. Here’s mine: Taking care of each other, and of the land that sustains us.