A hero of mine passed away early last November. He was the former Democratic senator from Georgia, Max Cleland. I want to share some poignant and meaningful memories with you along with the reflections that followed them. I met …
Love requires sacrifice, and means that we must learn to love the lives of others as well as our own. This type of love makes it clear that comfort can quickly become its own corruption. When we love beyond our own lives and comfort, we begin to love the lives of those connected to us and we are challenged and inspired to build a better world for all of us.
Heroes and heroines often lost in the woods, faced witches, dragons, dwarves, and trolls in our stories from medieval times. In our complicated age, I, like most of us, have had to learn that as a foundation for change and growth, I have to face dark forces within myself. I have had to learn that there are no new creations without passion, without rage. I am constantly challenged to stay aware of the complexity within myself that shapes how I respond to the events I am experiencing. I take on confronting myself as a personal duty because I care about the world I am helping to create for my children, grandchildren, and the family of humanity.
The courageous people who gave birth to our Declaration of Independence were human beings, like all of us. They were products of their time and had their flaws and weaknesses, like all of us. But their example challenges us to face life with more courage and the deep desire to fulfill our part in carrying our country’s founding vision a step forward in our lifetime. The challenge to our hearts is to remember and carry forward the vision of “Liberty” married to “Equality” as stated in our Declaration of Independence.
We are losing the heart and soul of our tradition, of the American spirit, and of our democracy. An attitude of narrow self-interest, hard-hearted practicality, and short-term vision is wreaking havoc across our land. It shows little concern for people’s actual well-being, it diminishes imagination and thoughtfulness, and it brands a passion for truth and knowledge as irrelevant.
While too many of us were living in denial and buying the illusion that things were getting better, they were actually getting worse for too many people and were, in fact, getting much worse for all of us, more than we realized. Our denial equals indifference, and our failure to face reality is casting a dark shadow over our national power structure and our lifestyles. Indifference blurs the lines between good and evil. Indifference makes it easier to look away from victims, our neighbors, and reduces them to abstractions, statistics, and political groups.
This is the story of three generations of my family’s relationship to our healthcare system. These are stories of suffering, struggle, and grief. They molded the lives of my family members. But I’m not telling them as tales of woe. I’m telling them to show the human side, my experience, my family’s experience of the financial costs of healthcare, and the cross these costs crucify us on. And for the first time I’m going to let my inner deplorables—my shadow side, long repressed—speak on the page.
There are some things we need to wake up to and learn from this shipwreck of our ability to be civil to each other. The first thing we need to learn is that living in a world full of turmoil — poverty, crime, violence, or more commonly, anxiety, tension, frustration, serious illness, and clashing parents and battling kids — teaches our biology early on that we are in a scary world. We learn we can’t feel safe or trust people to be good.
We who have been living in the more affluent bubble the last few decades seem caught in a double bind. On the one hand, we want to be compassionate, or at least seem that way. On the other hand, we are afraid of and want to defend ourselves against the people, the culture, and the communities caught in the clutches of drastic economic hardships. We fear them as if we are being threatened by foreigners. We fear their crudeness, their potential violence, their anger, their drug use, their failure to know and respect our rules; most of all, far too many of us fear how much it might really cost to give them a helping hand. Well, all I can say is that, if we have learned anything at all from our history at home and abroad since World War II, it should be that whenever we allow ourselves to be driven down the path of fear, we are on a direct road to disaster. This is a time for us to help each other without fear and to invest in our country with creativity to rebuild the structure of our democracy, beginning with its human infrastructure.
I was thirty-two years old when my hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, was in deep shock. It was late 1969. The city was reeling… brutalized after the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.