[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...