By the time we reach our 40’s and 50’s, most of us have had some kind of health issue or have suffered losses of friends and family members. And some have already experienced a great deal of loss in their early years. I barely know anyone my age who does not have some kind of chronic health issue, whether serious or relatively benign. And anyone who has suffered a loss knows that grief is an on-going chronic process too. I am always struck, in listening to others’ stories as well as through my own experience, by how our country shames the physically and mentally ill, and provides so little safety net that any major illness may result in deprivation and poverty. If the statistics that 70 percent of the population is living paycheck to paycheck is correct, any sudden change in health or circumstances may be catastrophic.
So far, I have seen Go Fund Me accounts set up for long or short-term medical expenses, (even among insured people, because most policies don’t cover much) for funeral expenses, legal assistance, schooling, transportation, living expenses, catastrophic accidents, and lately, for out of work and non-paid government employees. Despite working sometimes two or three jobs, people are basically being forced to beg for survival.
It is no wonder that a great deal of the population is anxious, depressed, and addicted to opioids. When I talk to overseas clients, whose countries have universal health coverage, they want to know how anyone could ever recover from an illness given the stress we are under. And many don’t. In a country where our only value is based on whether we can earn a living wage or not, many of us don’t survive, hence our increasingly high rates of suicide.
I think as human beings we have a duty of care. To treat one another with respect and as if we have the right to say alive, be healthy, and pursue that elusive thing called happiness. This used to be called basic decency, but apparently in this country, it is now reserved for the privileged. We currently have cities with whole neighborhoods of people living in tents. We are our own refugees. And this is a rich country!
Lately, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to live in a country whose laws actually reflected values of care rather than cruelty. A country in which we had access to clean water and air, non-poisoned food, medical care, decent education, equal rights, and we knew that our country actually had our backs. Given how much we work, and pay in taxes, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.