First World Health Care

Looking at bills from my recent surgery, i have to wonder how so many do it. Manage to take care of themselves without going into bankruptcy.

I work for a hospital. Tho not in any danger of living a life of luxury, i am well compensated enough that i am able to pay my bills without juggling them. (Something i never had til recently.) I have commercial insurance that my employer subsidizes, and truly, my cost per month isn’t terrible. I had a short-term disability benefit to cover my salary while i was recovering. And yet, i am having to engage a payment plan to pay for surgery that was a necessity.

At just under $5,000, my out-of-pocket is manageable over time for me. And i am grateful. But what if it had been my daughter who needed it?

She is an hourly worker. A florist. Works her tail off managing a flower shop at a modest rate of pay that is likely a bit above average in her industry (A testament to her talent and diligence.) But her employer offers no benefits. She makes too much to qualify for a government plan, but not enough to afford a commercial one. She isn’t a slacker – She works hard, tries to live within her budget, pays her taxes – Everything we expect of an upstanding citizen. And yet, if she were injured, she would lose everything. The $25,000 of overall medical costs would break her for more than half a decade, especially considering the amount of work time she would lose during recovery.

I can’t imagine what it would be like if she had a child.

Everyone has an issue with those who are capable, but choose not to work and remain on the dole. But there are millions of people in this country who ARE working. Working their asses off. Doing what they are supposed to do. Not spending money on a bunch of frillies or drugs. Just getting by with the essentials.  And health care is off-limits to them financially. Yes, there are funds available. There are private benefactors who contribute to funding as well. And that is wonderful. But it isn’t enough to cover the gap. We have some government representatives who are fighting for people like my daughter. But not enough of them. We have health care providers who make exceptions and volunteer services on a regular basis. But they can’t cover it all.

We are trying hard, but still failing.

I have heard arguments for and against government healthcare, single-payor plans, pocket-pay and free market systems. None of them is a cure-all.

Yet another instance where we know what doesn’t work, but don’t really know what will. Or at least i don’t.

All i know is, having grown up without the money to have the kind of healthcare i enjoy now… Hell, the kind of life i enjoy now… to know how blessed i am, even as i realize that i am still far closer to the bottom of the food chain than the top… I want to be part of a society that provides help for those who are struggling in spite of their strong efforts. I want to be part of a country that says, “If you are working hard, i’ll help you any way that i can.” A country where children and the elderly receive what they need.

And a country where those of us who are able to manage without help remember that not everyone is as lucky. And we have to help look out for them.

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My Teacher, Hank

“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”  ~  Henry David Thoreau

I think Thoreau would be pleased that my copy of Walden; Or, Life In The Woods is marked with highlighted passages and margin notes. The book is my go-to when things get difficult or complicated. As reference for myself, i have adorned my copy like a college textbook, marking each sentence that has an important lesson for me…

To remind me to take a step back and see the truth: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation… But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

To remember to keep it simple: “(To be a philosopher is) so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates; a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.”

To not live in the past: “Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.”

To be kind: ” The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.”

To resist the urge to rush and waste life: “Time is but the sandy stream I go  a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink, I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.”

To enjoy the expanse of nature and life: “There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon.”

And to fight my urge to accumulate “stuff”:  “In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with the truth, we are immortal, and need fear no change nor accident.”

Those are not all of the best passages, of course… Just the ones that jumped out at me today. On a different day, with different needs, some of the other passages will jump out. And i admit, i have similar markings and notes in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the writings of Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, and Robert Heinlein (among others, mostly fellow pantheists), and numerous holy books from a variety of religions. There is wisdom everywhere, if you look for it.

I love finding new sources of wisdom as well. I am forever asking people what books molded and shaped them. (Feel free to leave your favorite source of life-knowledge in the comments.) How else am i to find other springs from which to drink?

But more often than not, i am looking back to my pal, Hank. Philosophically and spiritually, we are in sync. I love his therapeutic writing style. And not for nothing, the man is a fellow Masshole. It makes sense that i am drawn to him. He has filled my head and heart and spirit with ideas that became the backbone of my soul.

I can only hope, that at the end of my life, if someone asks me if i have made my peace with God, i can respond as HDT did…

“I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

 

Syzygy

There is a solar eclipse tomorrow. It’s kind of a freaky thing. I mean, the trigonometry of it (Technically, syzygy), as complex as it is, is fairly simple when compared to the myths associated with it. And if you understand the trigonometry of it – well, first off, congrats to your teachers, but also, doesn’t it make you feel small? The things we complain and worry about on the day to day seem insignificant when thinking about the paths of planets within our solar system… Our selves not even large enough to be mites in the sight of the Powers of the Universe.

But back to the myths…

Wolves, dragons, dogs, bears, and – in old Vietnamese folklore – even frogs have been blamed as the cause, as they devour the sun for various reasons. Biting some or all of it, depending on the degree of eclipse. There are many cultures who believed that an eclipse was the result of angry gods, and that it could mean apocalypse. Some felt that it was the sun and moon arguing – and the blackness was a reminder for us all to stop quarreling here on Earth. There are scholars that believe the darkness that fell over Jesus’ crucifixion was an eclipse. And many people still continue to see it as a portent for danger. For death. For destruction. For endings. And new beginnings.

And i won’t even go into everything the astrologers have to say about the eclipse.

This event brings with it some serious logistic problems as well. For one, the traffic congestion in the areas that will see totality are expected to be legendary. The roads between here in Chattanooga and Nashville, for example, are expected to be insane as we are in the path. Schools have been closed so that whole families can view this event together. And i’m sure eye doctors are preparing for the worst.

Another logistic nightmare: This will be a real test of our solar power industry. Tho currently, as a country, only about one percent of our commercial power comes from solar energy, there are states who use more. North Carolina, for example, is the third largest solar state, at about three percent, and part of it will fall within the path of the eclipse. The power companies are used to having to accommodate fluctuations in the grid during storms and clouds, but even under cloud cover, we still get solar rays. Monday, for a short period, there will be none. Zip. Zilch. This is going to test their skills.

The first instinct is to think that it’s only two minutes… How bad can it be? But if you were on a respirator and without a backup generator, it would be catastrophic. (To note, hospitals all have backup generators… I was just pointing out that it’s all relative.)

I don’t work in the power industry, but every article i have read says they have been preparing for this, as they realize the outcome will greatly influence the growth or decline of solar power in the commercial marketplace. Can they keep the flow steady, minimal waxing and waning, by pulling from other sources and exporting to extra grids as the sheer number of solar rays drops to zero and then peaks? Bless the men and women who will try. Granted, a lot of it may be moot – like all the prep we did for the turn of the millennium. But maybe not. I guess we will see.

And finally, what does this eclipse mean for us as individuals? For you? For me? Will it be a source of wonder? Awesome, in the truest sense of the word? Will it make you sit later, with your friends and a beer, and discuss our minuteness in the vastness of space? Or will you make merry with it, invoke the old myths, and bang pots and pans to scare off the mythical creatures that are eating our sun? Will you read the astrological predictions, even if just out of curiosity? Will you view those two minutes of darkness as a metaphysical moment of silence? Or are you hoping they will have an effect like a slap for hysteria on this crazy country of ours?

For most of us, the eclipse tomorrow will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. I urge you, my friends, to be safe. And i also hope we all will take a moment to think about all that is going on around us, oblivious of us and yet made of us, and consider what kind of energy we are taking from and giving back to the Infinite Source. From a scientific, religious, or social perspective – I hope we all make the most of it.

 

*** To ensure safety when viewing the eclipse, please investigate on websites like NASA  or AAC for different ideas on how to do so properly.

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go

I used to really enjoy my time on social media. I loved seeing everyone’s vacation pictures, funny memes, and dinner recipes. Sure, there was the occasional rant about how much something sucked, or the Facebook equivalent of a chain letter (For those of you too young to remember, these were actual pen-and-ink letters that you had to copy by hand and send to ten of your friends, or Hitler was going to show up at your next birthday party with near-beer and a rabid wombat and ruin everything, and you’d be left to rot in hell forever after)… But on the whole, it was my happy place. After a rough shift at work, i looked forward to seeing a video of a friend’s new grandson, or a screaming goat singing the chorus to the latest Taylor Swift song. It made me forget the stress of the day and laugh a little. It made it much easier not to kick the dog and go to bed angry….

Until last year.

While, before that, there were people who clogged up my newsfeed with conspiracy theories and mean tweets (Excluding, of course, the videos of celebrities reading mean tweets… That stuff’s hysterical!), if i wanted to stay in contact regardless, i could always hide their posts so i didn’t have to see them. But the last election turned far too many of us into partisan, uncompromising, political commentators. I had hoped it would end after the election, but it has, in many instances, gotten worse. From both the left and the right.

Now, i’m not saying people don’t have the right to be angry. And i’m not saying that people don’t have the right to post it. There is no law that says you can’t argue via the internet. And i admit, sometimes people say things, either true or false, that make me look it up and learn more about it. I consider that a good thing. I like to learn.

It’s the meanness that makes me log off.

Which brings me to tell you about my grandmothers. (I know that doesn’t make sense… Stick with me here…)

One of my grandmothers was a petite, quiet, but strong woman, born within the first decade of the 20th century. A good Irish Catholic girl (Yes, they DO exist), she strived to live like a good Christian. Like most of her generation, she had prejudices about color and lack of religion. I doubt she knew anyone who was (admittedly) gay, but she probably would have felt uncomfortable with it. She did not, however, believe in the mistreatment of anyone, regardless. No meanness. No evil thoughts. As a child, whenever i would get frustrated and shout that i HATED (Clams, tie shoes, the miscreant kid down the street…), she would gently, but sternly, say, “You must not hate. You can dislike, but you must NEVER hate. God doesn’t like hate.” And tho i certainly wasn’t a good Irish Catholic girl, i knew she spoke the truth. I knew it was wrong to hate and hurt. I knew that Love was the answer. Even if we don’t care for someone, we were to treat them as we want to be treated. And then pray for them. Never hate them. Hate was what caused people to do mean things. Hate is what caused us to mistreat others. Hate is what hurt people.

Now, my other grandmother was not like that at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. She was strong. But the other stuff? Nope. Not even close. For one thing, she was the center on her high school’s girls’ basketball team… This was right about 1940, so that should tell you a lot about the woman. She wasn’t petite, she wasn’t quiet, and her idea of religion was more about the holiness of a good lobster roll. (And if you fail to see the holiness, you’ve never had a really good lobster roll.) When my other grandmother was heading to mass on Sunday, this one was preparing to settle in and watch the Dolphins play. She could swear like a sailor, and she loved a good bet. But it never mattered who she was betting, or watching the game with, or sitting next to at the bar. Your validity as a Dolphins fan was not questioned if you happened to be from another human category. That never mattered to her. Case in point, i had the pleasure one day of sitting with my grandmother and the remaining women from her basketball team at their regular get-together for coffee. They told me about how difficult it was to find other female teams to play… They would have to travel hours to games… And how angry they would get when they would arrive, and someone would question the fact that their power forward was a black woman. To them, they were a team. Period. That was all that mattered.  And they wouldn’t tolerate mistreatment of their friend, classmate, and teammate, even if that meant refusing to play a game if she wasn’t included.

As i said, these women weren’t perfect. They each had their own social circles, and like others of their generation, didn’t cross the tracks to other neighborhoods very often. (Many generations later, this is still a widespread issue.) But neither of them ever knowingly mistreated someone because of a skin color, religion, political affiliation, whathaveyou. Maybe it was because they were both forced into single motherhood at a time when there were no allowances for that. They knew what it was like to be refused a job simply because you were female and a mother. They knew looks of disapproval for something that was outside their control and had no bearing on their worthiness.  Maybe because of that, they chose to override their socially-nurtured prejudices and try to treat all people with fairness and equity. Your worthiness for trust, to them, was based on your behavior to others and your willingness to work hard. Your worthiness as a human was determined by the fact that you were human. Clear. Simple.

Two women, over a decade apart in age, different social brackets, different religions and interests… Both coming to the conclusion that heart and tenacity are better discriminators than color and creed. This is how i was raised.

Yes, there are times i find myself jumping to conclusions about people based on an accent,  bumper sticker, or hygiene habits. At those times, i forcibly remind myself that i could be them in another circumstance, or vice versa. And i remind myself that a lot of what i am might horrify them, too. And that puts us on an even playing field. I still might make the wrong judgement in the end, but at least it’s an honest mistake and not a thoughtless one.

So as i cruise my social media tonight, as i weed thru the Trumpsters hating on the immigrants, and the Dems hating on the Right, and everyone hating on the Muslims… I will try to remember that they probably have some valid points. That they have a right to express their anger, even if others don’t agree or sympathize. That they may not know or care that all i want to find on my home page tonight is a story about bikers helping kids or a video of guinea pigs talking about pumpkin spice. That they don’t realize how bitter they sound. I will try to remember because i don’t want to get caught up in the hatred. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hatred. And God/Goddess/Universe doesn’t like it when i hate.

I know, because my grandmothers told me so.

They also taught me that, in the face of hate, sometimes all you can do is refuse to play the game.

Stuck In the Middle With Me

Last week on Facebook, my oldest weedling made a post lamenting “I’m in that awkward stage where I’m not skinny enough to be called a ‘beach body’ but I’m not fat enough to be labeled as ‘bravely body positive’.” People laughed and got a kick out of it. Problem is, she wasn’t kidding. At brunch this morning, she admitted that this really bothers her. And i get it. I really do. Being “in between” holds no allure for anyone, but especially not for a blue sheep.

At 50 years old, i am smack dab middle age (Or a little past it, most likely, given my life expectancy.) I am too old to be young, and too young to be old. I am in decent health, still learning, still growing, still wanting. I’m not ready to be “old” yet. Sitting in a group of my chronological peers, i feel like i was given a one-time pass to the grown-ups’ table. Like i’m neither aged enough, nor wise enough, to really belong there. But if i try to hang with the young movers and shakers, i feel like a rusted out Volkswagon Thing in a sea of shiny new Jeeps.  I see me as woefully out of place. I suspect they see me as “Mom”. Or, more likely,  “Mom off her meds”. Anyway, the point is, it’s no fun to be stuck in between – No familial group and no extreme to reach for.

And it’s not just the age thing. Physically, i do plenty well for my age, but not well enough to be remarkable. I live well-beyond any need for subsidy, but not enough to be debt free. Not spicy enough to be hot, nor bland enough to be comfort food. Not odd enough to be truly unique, nor boring enough to be average. I’m neither stunning, nor a train wreck. Neither genius, nor idiot. Neither beast, nor fowl, nor good red herring.

I’m just me.

And like my daughter, i, too, am bothered by the fact that i am not extraordinarily something.

I do realize that there is no sin in this. I mean, by definition, you can’t have superlatives without the masses to compare them to.  And i see, even if she doesn’t, that my daughter is extraordinary, even if it isn’t in the way she lusts after. She is beautiful and creative and big-hearted and talented and larger than life. And tho it may not give her something to boast about in a politically correct way, i hope it makes her truly feel her worth during the quiet moments of thought. And, i suppose, i have my own virtues as well, even if they aren’t always the ones i wish i had. (Please, God, can i look like a young Elizabeth Taylor for just one day???? Please??????) From a philosophical standpoint, even among the differently colored sheep, there are stages of tone and brightness. Who is to say that the Chartreuse sheep is any less spectacular than the Kelly green one? Is the lighter green better than the darker? The subdued green better than the bold? Really, is any hue of green less awesome than the other?

Well, i personally don’t care much for Olive, but that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t love it.

In the crayon box of life, there are times when one of the yellows will get stuck in the blue section and seem all out of place. We know it belongs with the rest of the yellows. We pick it up and move it. Easy peasy.  The indecisive agony comes when you are forced to confront the teal. Is it blue or green? Which end of the spectrum? Where does it fit? And are we able to find a place for it before we give up, screw it, and jam it in with the reds?

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea. Then it will really  stand out.

Because no one wants to be just plain old red either.

 

 

 

Tuck and Roll

My Easter cactus is blooming. Flowers always make me smile, but this cactus, even more so. I inherited it from my grandmother when she passed, who inhereited from my mother when she passed. I don’t know where Ma got it. Knowing my mother, it could have been a gift, or she could have won it in a game of cribbage. Who knows? But in any case, this plant has to be more than 35 years old. My aunt and sister each have identical siblings to mine. Mine flowers more because i live farther south, but all three produce and continue to thrive.  I think most of us tend to think of plants as transient things, but this plant (well, the three plants really) is a part of our family. And a long-term one at that. Given that such cacti are rumored to live for over 100 years in some cases, i expect we will all get more lives out of them. Perhaps i will even pass them down to my own weedlings some day.

Also on my radar this week is the “Giraffe Cam” at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York. Myself and a ridiculous number of others have been watching for weeks now for a baby giraffe to be born.  Giraffes have a 13 to 15 month gestation period – Daunting for humans – But considering a giraffe only lives about 25 years, i’d imagine it’s even more so to them. Also noteworthy is the fact that giraffes are single moms… The father plays very little into the rearing of the offspring. So motherhood is basically a bit of a bum wrap for giraffes, between the excruciatingly long pregnancy and the solitary rearing. But i’ve never heard a giraffe complain.

Bill Paxton died last week. In his honor, i rewatched Tombstone.  There’s a great quote by his character, Morgan Earp, in the movie:  “Look at all the stars. You look up and you think, ‘God made all this and He remembered to make a little speck like me.’ It’s kind of flattering, really.” Flattering, indeed. So many wonders in this universe, so many magnificent creatures, plants, geological formations… And in the midst of it all sits each one of us.

There are days when i am grateful that God/Goddess/Universe was inclined to make such complicated creatures such as humans. Biologically, mentally, and spiritually complicated. And fragile. We’ve neither the endurance of plants nor the resilience of most other creatures. As Montgomery Scott once said, “The more you over think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” So while i admire the exacting nature the Universe had when She created us as beings, there are days when i wonder if She thinks She should have stopped at the duck-billed platypus. Quit while She was ahead, so to speak. Because now She has a creature who has gotten too big for its own britches.

We fight amongst ourselves. We are terribly selfish. And we treat all other life as inferior. Obviously, this isn’t true of all individuals. The people i know are all good-hearted. But as a group, we don’t flower. Nor do we wait patiently thru more than a year’s gestation for ANYTHING. That puts us behind both my Easter cactus and the giraffe of New York.

Granted, neither my cactus nor the giraffe are painting Picassos or writing symphonies, so it’s not like they’re ahead on every level. I suck at making pie crust, but i definitely make it better than the giraffe does. (And if you think pie crust isn’t a work of art, i’d argue that you never had a good one.)

So where am i going with all this? I have no idea. It’s more that i am coming to internalize that humans are no greater a creation than any of the Universe’s others. It is only when we become caretaker of each other, and of all the other creations, that we truly achieve any sort of right to the pedestal we put humans on. And lately, as a species, we haven’t been doing the best job of it. But we can do better. I have faith.

So, as the saying goes, the first step off that pedestal is going to be a bitch. We had better be prepared to tuck and roll! And maybe, if we work really hard, we can earn our way back up.

Puppet, Pauper, Pirate, Poet

This week, someone whom i respect told me that i was a “complete, mature woman.” I wouldn’t have been more stunned if someone had told me i had a superpower.  I’m loud, inappropriate, unapologetic, and prone to fits of anger and selfishness.  There are days when i’m both isolationist and terribly needy. And i can be emotionally overwhelmed by a video of baby goats. “I, myself, am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” In short, i’m a mess.

Don’t get me wrong, i know i am more grown up than some, and certainly more grown up than i have ever been before… On a scale from Lindsay Lohan to Helen Mirren, i’d be optimistic to say i’m a Drew Barrymore or Ellen DeGeneres.  And like them, i  try to be funny and kind. I don’t always succeed. But i suppose even Helen Mirren has days when she wakes with a zit on her chin and a bee in her bonnet and tells someone to fuck off for no reason at all.

I mean, she’s only human, right?

Anyway, i don’t know what it means to be “complete” and “mature”.

Wait, i take that back.

I don’t know what it means to be “mature”, but i do know what it means to be “complete”. Or, rather, i know who i want to be before my journey of life is over. That, to me, is “complete”. And i know i am not there yet.

I admit to a bit of pride in the fact that i at least know where i am headed. I have met far too many who don’t. They know what they want to be, but not who they want to be. Having been many “what”s in my life, it seems to me that the “who” is much more important. After all, it’s the one thing you’re stuck with in between “what”s. And it’s what leaves the lasting impression.

It’s true that i could be remembered for being a mother, a wife (Ok, a few wives…), a coworker, a teacher, a goofball, an annoyance…. Whole bunches of nouns that are objective labels i carry. But it’s the other stuff, the subjective stuff, that i want to be remembered for. I want my legacy to be humor, fairness, altruism, empathy, wisdom, grace…. Maybe grace is a stretch. Ok, grace is definitely a stretch. But i really believe that, if i live long enough, i can accumulate some of the others.

Because here’s the thing… God/Goddess/Universe is concerned with the “who”, not the “what”. Praying for a new car never works. We know this. But pray to be a better person, and she will put experiences in your path that will bring it about. She knows who i want to be, who i’m trying to be. And she must find it a worthy goal, because She is helping me get there bit by bit. I may not like Her teaching methods sometimes, but i do like where i’m headed.

I hope, before my journey is over, i get there.

So, no. I don’t consider myself a “mature, complete woman”. Yet. But i don’t discount the possibility that i will get there someday. That i will achieve that goal. Well, at least the “complete” part. I’m not sure about the “maturity part”… And i’m not sure i want to.

I don’t really know what “maturity” is, but it sounds boring as hell.