A clergy friend of mine (BA, M.Div., D.Min.) is without full-time work of any kind. Her position as an associate in a medium size congregation was eliminated for budget reasons. Two years have passed, and she has struggled along with several part-time minimum wage secular jobs and Sunday supply work. That means no health insurance. To be sure, she will get appropriate care through the largesse of local hospitals if something catastrophic happens, but there is no routine or preventive care.
I know her story because she is my friend. In a nation of high unemployment, and with re-employment tending toward temporary and part time jobs at low pay with no benefits, how many other stories just like it could tell of those who are sliding into a dark and lonely pit just like the one she is in.
Each week the local paper features yet another family for whom a fund has been set up to help pay the enormous costs of cancer care, transplant surgery or some other hideous medical expense. They are featured because friends have become their public advocates trying to marshall a charitable community response to an extraordinary need. But how extraordinary is it when it is a weekly occurrence and probably just a glimpse of other needs by other persons for whom there are no advocates, at least not advocates who know how to get newspaper publicity? Besides, the many local funds, however well meaning, never raise more than a fraction of the costs that will have to be borne somewhere by somebody.
Are these the people whom some commentators claim just need a kick in the butt to get them going? Are they the weaklings who should be taking care of themselves and not whining for a public handout? No, they re not. When we tell their stories one at a time they become real people in need of real help, and, at least to me, that help needs to come not from inadequate and chancy charity, but through a renewed public commitment to a different kind of health care system for our country.
I read somewhere that that great humanitarian Josef Stalin said that the death of one man was a tragedy but the death of thousands was a statistic. We have allowed voices from one side of the debate to speak as if facts were opinions, and the collective misery of thousands mere statistics. We can do better than that.