Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passionate Healing

[Written after going to hear State Senator John Marty * and his father, Lutheran minister and theologian Dr. Martin E. Marty, talk together on Faith, Politics, and Social Justice. Senator Marty is the co-author of Minnesota Health Plan.]

I love stories about kindnesses.

I love stories, for instance, about how kind people are to their pets.
I have a friend who has a three-legged, half-blind cat with an anxiety disorder--I'm not making this up--and he and his wife care so lovingly for that cat, I'm jealous of it. Of her, I mean. Her name is Daisy.

RIGHT: Mand danser for hund (1989), by Sys Hindsbo

I can't read the Danish site about the artist, where the picture's from, so I don't know, but I believe this man is dancing for the amusement of his dog. People I know who have dogs do that sort of thing.

Kindnesses to pets are lovely. Even better are the kindnesses of friends.
Here's one of my favorite stories about that kind of kindness. **

I. The Power of Kindness

Long ago and far away, a healer came to a town where a paralyzed man lived.
This guy must have been a total sweetheart because when his friends heard about the healer's arrival, they lugged their friend on a mat to see him.

A lot of us in the industrialized world think, "yeah, yeah," when we hear this sort of detail,
but I know from working in a nursing home that if you don't have an electric hoist and a wheelchair or something, you don't want to be lifting a paralyzed human, much less carrying them across town.

LEFT: Carrying a Person, by Sys Hindsbo (from Art Stamps)

But these friends carried the guy so I figure he inspired that kind of love.
Or, I don't know---maybe he was a total crank and his friends were desperate to get him healed so they wouldn't have to feel guilty anymore about making excuses not to visit him.
The story doesn't say.
It's not key, but I imagine the paralyzed guy was one of those types of people who are easy to love, because the hard truth is, people are kinder to those lucky types.

(I've noticed that the people who need love the most are often the hardest to love.)

Anyway, when the friends and the guy got to the house where the healer was, they couldn't get in because naturally everybody else who needed healing was there too.

So the friends decide to climb up on the roof, take the roofing off, and lower their friend down to the healer.

I forget exactly what happens next. It's been a while since I heard the story, and I'm one of those people who's hopeless at relating anecdotes.
I know the paralyzed guy gets healed, yeah, but I think there's some other point to the story?
Something about faith?

What sticks, though, is the picture in my mind of the friends scrabbling up on a roof.
I wonder if the healer laughed when he saw the guy on the mat coming down from the hole in the roof, like, "Now I've seen everything"--though the owners of the house were probably not that thrilled.

I imagine the healer stored up moments like these to remember later, whenever he had doubts about the worthiness of humans.

Our ability to be kind is one of our most worthy qualities.

II. The Limitations of Kindness

I got remembering this story tonight, after hearing the Martys discuss faith and politics.
Senator Marty talked about the desire of good people to care for the most vulnerable among us--and the political duty to make that care work systematically.

I agree. For while the above story is a great illustration of kindness, relying on the kindness of individuals is a pretty rickety health care policy. What happened to all the wounded and sick people in the story who didn't have such devoted and resourceful friends?

In a world that relies on individual kindnesses:

1) If you're lucky, when you're sick, people will move heaven and earth and rooftops to get you to a doctor, either for love or money.

2) If you're not lucky, when you're sick you will be poor and alone.

We in the United States have been running on luck.
I know a woman who lost her job a couple years ago when the economy tanked. She and I are in the same demographic: white, college-educated, middle-class, middle-age, single, childless women.
She ended up selling her house and eventually cashing in her IRA to live.
When her appendix threatened to burst, she had no health insurance. The hospital bill for taking it out was $25,000.

Unlike me when I had emergency surgery last Easter, this woman wasn't actually poor enough yet to qualify for medical assistance.
But she's lucky in another way: she's a very likable person who's friends with a lot of musicians. They threw a fundraiser for her and raised a lot of the money.
Basically, they took her in through the roof.

I want to live in a society where health care doesn't depend on luck, where it isn't a matter of money or lovability or worthiness but is a given for all humans, no matter what.

Kindness is strong, but it bends with the winds of emotion. Further, we don't often extend it very far beyond our own circle.
We also need justice, which is firm in logic and doesn't spread thin when we extend it to strangers.

My sense of kindness says that if you're sick and I love you, I want you to get good health care because I love you.

My sense of justice says if you're sick and I don't love you--maybe even dislike you--I still want you to get good health care, because I love justice, even if I don't love you.

(There's a third motive for taking care of people: Profit. I dismiss it since it ceases to exist the moment someone falls into poverty.)

From what I've seen of human nature, I'd say it's a good idea to put justice in the hands of some neutral party.
I think that neutral party should be a government with lots of checks and balances.

RIGHT: "Jesus Healing a Leper," sketch by Rembrandt

Our government is not perfect, being an institution whose members are us.
But I don't see Jesus or any other divine healer around, so we've got to muddle through with what's on hand,
and the government, lumpy and bumpy as it is, seems to me the best bet we've got to dispense justice in a systematic way.

Which is all just a long way of saying I support universal health care. It is a matter of justice.
We should not be like pets, dependent on the whims of kindness and luck.
Not everyone dances for their dogs.
* I wrote last summer about meeting Senator Marty at a MN Single-Payer Health Care event.

In the name of full disclosure, here I repeat that the senator won me over--like Dug-the-dog (left, from the movie Up)-- not with his admirable health care plan but by giving me his last skewer of chicken satay when I came to the buffet late (because I'd been working the door).

Now, however, I am confident it is his politics I admire, as there was no chicken or any other food at the talk tonight, and I can support his campaign for governor knowing I am unswayed by gastrointestinal considerations.

** I looked up the story about the paralyzed man. It's from Luke 5:17-26.
The reason I didn't remember how it ends is because it turns into a squabble with the Pharisees about whether or not Jesus had the right to forgive sins...


momo said...

Dearest Fresca, these are wonderful words to read this morning. A gift!

I have thought about you and your emergency surgery as we care for my mother who is so fortunate that she is not alone and will not have to sell her home or cash out her savings or rely on the kindness of strangers. But I'm so keenly aware of how easily things could have been very different, and I know a person whose friends threw a fundraiser so he could pay for his cancer treatments and others who spent decades chained to crappy jobs because emergency health care made it impossible for them to qualify for student loans...

Do you know, I do dance for my cat, mostly in the kitchen while I make my coffee.

Dania said...

As much as I'm annoyed by my own problems with health insurance premiums going through the roof and wondering each month if I can afford it, I was reminded yesterday at a Coffee Party meeting that some people have it far worse. A friend of an attendee was either going to have to liquidate all her assets and possibly divorce her husband to qualify for aid. How can we as a country, that claims so much to be Christian, do this people?

On an another note, Google can translate webpages pretty accurately:

Of course, you use more creativity imagining what's going on.

Margaret said...

Fantastic and lovely post.

I was reminded of Farmer Hoggett dancing for his pig Babe, (and if I'm' not mistaken, he sings "If I Had Words to Make a Day for You" just before this clip):

When I lived on a farm over the summer, we would have proper burial services when an animal died, and I remember being impressed by a hopeful feeling for our species based on this little show of mourning over life lost.

Certainly, no one wants to be (or should be) left to flighty Lady Fortune when it comes to their health. It's a matter of placing the absolute highest value on life.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for the story of the healer! The Bible is one of those wonderful texts that many of us hear so much that it loses meaning, so I always love it when people re-contextualize the story. They took the roof off the building! One of those details that we nod and say "Uh-huh" when we hear it, but take a step back and look at it and it's amazing and fresh. How desperate they must have been!

femminismo said...

Wonderful story. You don't lack for recital skills. The pictures and your imagination work together well, so no translation needed. Health care for all. We've got to start somewhere. The other side had eight good years to make some progress on "their plan."

Clowncar said...

The first picture reminds me of the farmer dancing a jig for his pig in Babe. Wonderful movie.

It was nice to come home from a vacation to find the health care bill passed. A flawed bill, but it is a start.

Clowncar said...

p.s. - I just saw where Margaret was reminded of the very same thing!

Fresca said...

MOMO: Glad you liked it. Next time I housesit, I'll have to try dancing for the cat.

DANIA: The stories about what people have to do to get health care are laughable! Or tragic. Both, really.
Thanks for the google translator!

JEN: That's the thing with history--it's so weird, but if it becomes over-familiar (like Bible stories may be) we forget that.
Yeah, they TOOK OFF THE ROOF... It's so wild!
Same with American history--I'm being reminded how freaky it is.

FMNSMO: Thanks for your encouragement!

MARGARET & CLOWNCAR: Why, it's Zefram Cochrane, from Star Trek, dancing for Babe! Or, is it Prince Philip?
(At any rate, I gather James Cromwell is a longtime vegetarian.)

Thanks for the tip--I had totally forgotten that scene.

The Crow said...

Stumbling my way out of my recent bout of emotional and mental torpor, I find this gem of compassion and reason. Thank you, Fresca.


Fresca said...

I had wondered where you were!

"Torpor"--such a perfect word--sounds like something in Lord of the Rings--some dreadful place that sucks the soul out of us.

Glad you're stumbling your way out.