Last night I arrived home too late to catch President Obama's speech on healthcare reform. So as not to be influenced by other's reactions, I waited to speak with anyone until I could sit down this morning for the re-run courtesy of Youtube.
When President Obama spoke of those living with cancer--and other serious diagnosis--who die due to lack of access to care, or are struggling now because insurance companies are dropping them from the roles, tears emerged.
Living with cancer is a sometimes terrifying and often demoralizing experience. The helplessness and the guilt--however irrational it may seem--can be doubly debilitating. When we are vulnerable to illness and closer to death, there can be the feeling that we deserve to be ill and are unworthy in some way. And that yes, we deserve to die. Again, it is irrational, but then feelings are not rational.
The merging of the emotional, physical and fiscal obliteration as a result of a cancer diagnosis (or any serious illness) is indescribable--and yet it is imperative that we continue to articulate what that devastation means--to all of us.
Whether or not we are currently celebrating robust health, success and good fortune, the truth is we are all just one scan or x-ray away from what could mean debilitation or death. And perhaps that is why so many seem uncaring about those less fortunate. Perhaps it is too close to us all and there is a need to create a distance between 'us' and 'them'.
The truth is arrogance and vulnerability simply cannot co-exist. Arrogance cannot tolerate the notion of illness and as a result, dismisses and even demonizes those who are frail and less privileged.
I am heartened by President Obama's words and hopeful for those who feel invisible. Hopeful that we may all be seen and heard and that illness will not leave us feeling unworthy of care. And now, we await the action.
If you have not read Ted Kennedy's touching letter to President Obama, here it is. This from a man who died of brain cancer and who had all the privileges imaginable. And yet, he cares deeply. Even upon his death.
Dear Mr. President,
I wanted to write a few final words to you to express my gratitude for your repeated personal kindnesses to me – and one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth.
On a personal level, you and Michelle reached out to Vicki, to our family and me in so many different ways. You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life.
You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country.
When I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the President who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me-and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.
There will be struggles – there always have been – and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat – that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.
And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will – yes, we will – fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.
In closing, let me say again how proud I was to be part of your campaign- and proud as well to play a part in the early months of a new era of high purpose and achievement. I entered public life with a young President who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young President inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.
So, I wrote this to thank you one last time as a friend- and to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become.
At the Denver Convention where you were nominated, I said the dream lives on.
And I finished this letter with unshakable faith that the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.
With deep respect and abiding affection,