I am thinking about a particular patient of mine this morning. He is a wonderful guy who would bring quarters to my office hoping to give them to my 6-year-old daughter who sometimes joined me in morning clinic. Despite having a terrible illness for many years, he conducted himself with a wonderful attitude. He was my hero. As I write this blog, he is breathing his last, ready to push off into Aslan’s country, comfortable under the care of a bedside hospice nurse.
This blog entry is about how we need each other, and how we are responsible for each other. Americans don’t do this community stuff as well as other countries. We like our independence, our rugged individualism.
In the book of Genesis, one of the foundational texts of many of the world’s cultures, there is a fascinating God, and an interesting 90-year old named Abraham. Abraham prays for a rotten town, Sodom, pleading that for the benefit of just ten good people, that God would not destroy the city. God agreed to the bargain. Why not destroy those who were complicit in atrocity, and spare those who weren’t? Why judge groups of people instead of individuals?
We believe, as modern Americans, in individual responsibility. Another way of saying it is that a person lays in the bed s/he makes. (I always found that metaphor to be insufficient. You see, I never really cared about having my bed made up). Most of the people in white evangelical churches probably feel that individual responsibility trumps corporate responsibility, particularly when it comes to political matters (I can say this since I am one of those white evangelicals). My suspicion is that most of us would feel differently if we were in dire need and had no social safety net.
Should individual responsibility trump corporate responsibility? I’ll give a corporate responsiblity example from hospice. Our patients’ families sacrifice, at great length, time, effort, and money (mainly through time away from work) to care for their loved ones. Also, hospice is reimbursed through government (corporate) funding. We all pay for the few of who are enduring the end-of-life process.
“It takes a village,” so goes the line made famous by Hillary Clinton. Although I disagree with Mrs. Clinton on much of her politics, I do agree that we need each other. Consider that many of the families in our communities are single-parent. These good people receive help from extended family and friends. They otherwise might not make it. From time to time, I have opportunity to provide free medical care for my patients who don’t have insurance and who are out of a job. What I usually say to them is that during my medical training many people (often our parents) helped Stephanie and me. They watched our kids when we both had to work or needed time together. They bought us dinner when we couldn’t afford it.
I had a nice visit two days ago with a wonderful person who has been a friend of our family for decades. She knew me when I was a boy, and because of our long relationship, she was able to offer me just the right encouragement, and the necessary caution. Her imparted wisdom was an example of Fort Worth’s version of a village.
Those who know me well enough to understand my deep affection for personal responsibility may be wondering how I can square all this talk about community with good ol’ American “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” wisdom. I will tell you. I have become a “both-and” proponent of individual and corporate responsibility. We have to and must rely on each other. We must rely on each other. And, we must take responsibility for our ourselves.
In John 15 Jesus says to his followers, “because they hated me they will hate you.” As one of the many persons on this planet who declare themselves to be followers of Jesus, I must say that I find His words challenging, but reasonable. I pray that I will will fall in with Jesus, and His ragamuffin followers, regardless of how His events turn.
So goodbye my friend, you are who just now finding out what is beyond. Thank you for showing us how to be brave when we are sick and how to trust the Creator when our time in the land of the dying is coming to an end. Thank you for being part of our village in this land where we need each other. Requiem en passat.