A friend's small house in Greene County, NY has been my temporary home since last Friday afternoon. It has rained here nearly every day. I am surrounded by late-summer lush green foliage, though the Catskill Creek is running very low, and most of the country suffers drought. I read the news about India's massive power failure with sorrow. Eventually, if those who favor decrease in infrastructure spending seize the day, we will probably be experiencing the same sort of thing here. I wonder whether we are mentally equipped to handle it.
I know about the American can-do spirit, and I know most people are generous when there is trouble (yes, even some of those whose wealth affords them the ability to simply go elsewhere). But over time can-do gets diluted by can't-bear-to and don't-care-to. We need look no further than our own New Orleans to see that sometimes people and projects get abandoned.
I lived a year in this same town back in 2000, and in some ways there has been very little change. In a gorgeous part of the state, it was then lovely, but economically depressed, and it is still lovely and, judging by the number of vacant storefronts and "For Sale" signs, depressed now. We all know that, for most, incomes have not risen. But prices have, by a lot. I remember what I used to pay at the grocery store for the same items I want to buy now. The change is frightening. Of course, that's been going on all along, everywhere I have been, but short-duration stays can capture precise memories. I know where I lived, for instance, when I got my first contact lenses, because we didn't live there long. For the same reason, I know how old I was: ten. Whereas a friend who has always lived in the same town and whose deep roots fill me with longing, often bemoans the lack of sharp markings of time.
Even those who can pinpoint events in the past can't always see the future. I don't know what's going to happen here in Greene County, or in New York State, or in America. But for good things to happen for all, I think we have to junk the idea that one can be utterly self-made and self-sustaining. The idea of "making it" completely on one's own is neither factual enough to be reality nor true enough to be myth. Even when I was driving to and from my acapella dates in the 1990s, I was using roads built by an earlier generation, and performing in spaces constructed by the generation before that. So yeah, I was booking myself, promoting myself, driving myself, and singing all by myself, but it still took a village to get me to the gig. I would like to know that, years down the line, another traveling singer could do what she does and get where she is going because my generation built good roads, strong bridges, a sustainable power grid, a national wireless network. I would like to trust that she could breathe easy because industrial polluting of the air was a thing of the past. That she could eat a dinner of non-toxic food, and drink water that is clean and pure. That, if she suffered from poor health, she could be assured of proper care even through the ups and downs of an artist's income.
I have auto insurance for anything bad that might happen to my trusty Toyota. Tree limbs, trucks, theft, all covered. But currently, I might not be covered if bad things happen to me (unless they happen as a result of being in the car when they happen).
Were I in Israel, though, I would be, because Israel has had universal health care since 1995. I didn't know that till this week, and neither did Mr. Romney, apparently. My Netherlands-born grandfather would have been covered in his homeland starting in 1966 had he not emigrated as a child to the States. Had he been born in Norway, and stayed there, he would have been covered starting in 1912. Many Americans will not be covered for another two years, and then only if the Affordable Care Act is not dismantled.
Since we are wont to assure the world that, in America, "We're #1!", and since Jesus told us repeatedly to take care of even our very "Other" neighbors (Luke 10:29-37), those of us who are waving the American flag in one hand and the Bible in the other have some serious "splennin" to do about why we are not living up to either ideal.
Many sincere folks say "God helps those who help themselves" as they argue for programs cuts that will hurt millions of Americans. They think, when they say it, that they are quoting scripture. But they are not. It's in a fable Aesop wrote, and Benjamin Franklin used it in his Poor Richard's Almanac. It is not in the Bible. In fact, God is pretty much on record in scripture as promising to be with us, helping the helpless, using our hands to do it. So, perhaps our hands need to be more open, and empty, and ready.