Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I just watched a crowd of people jeering at a man who said he was ill with Parkinsons. The mob facing this man, who was sitting on the ground, yelled at him about handouts. One man lectured him, saying "If you're looking for a handout, you're on the wrong end of town. There's nothing for free over here, you have to work for everything you get." Another tossed money at him as he sat holding a sign saying he needs help.

Is this truly what we have become in this country? Have we actually come to a place where such callousness and brutality against our fellow citizens is accepted and cheered? What has happened to us here?

I encountered this obscenity having just come back from a short visit with my father. He is 92 now, increasingly weak, very frail. He is pale, unsteady on his feet, and his memory has deteriorated dramatically in the last few months. My precious daddy is finally, truly old, and I don't think he'll be with us much longer.

My father is ill. He needs help, he does. He is blessed to have social security and Medicare, bank accounts, plus a supplemental health care policy, thanks to good fortune in education, work, talent, and being able to save a little money. Despite a lifetime of saving, though, his financial situation is worrisome. Last year, some thieves at Lehman Brothers waltzed away with a sizeable chunk of the money he worked a lifetime to accumulate.

I picture my father sitting on the ground in the condition he's in, holding a sign saying "I'm elderly, weak, and sick. I need help," while people mock him for his frailty. I see my husband, who was so desperately ill for four long years early in this godforsaken century: sweet Mike, 120 pounds of him, skeletal, wasting, so close to death. I imagine people scoffing at him for his weakness, for having become sick, as if it could not happen to any one of us.

On the way back from Ponca City, we passed workmen on the road, and a work truck flying a big American flag. I realized when I saw it that I have grown ashamed of my country. I am ashamed to live in a place where compassion is derided. I am disgusted to belong to a nation so insistent that our values are Christian, where so many who claim Christ use the Bible as a weapon. I am apalled when people boast of American exceptionalism while condemning and ridiculing those in need.

Maybe it's my frame of mind today. It's gray again, and cold. I've spent a couple of hours sitting across the table from my failing father, and I've watched my fellow Americans angrily jeering a man who says he is sick, mocking his weakness, his need. I've seen the red, white, and blue of my country's flag blowing in the wind and I wonder if it means anything at all anymore.

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