“(T)o live humanly means to feel the warmth of someone who says to us, in spite of our spiritual and moral misery : ‘It is good that you exist, Brother. You are welcome. The sun is also yours.’”
Leonardo Boff Saint Francis: A Model for Human Liberation
It’s 106 today in North Texas. The sun beats down upon the head of the veteran as he moves from the freeway underpass where he spent his day to the mission where he will get his evening meal. The heat is oppressive. Each breath burns his lungs. Air conditioned cars rush by, a flash of chrome and tinted glass. No one looks at him. In the bright light of day, he is unremarkable, almost invisible. This road is where the homeless flock. He is a fixture, less than human. No threat and therefore no cause for concern.
There’s a new burger joint in town. The line of job seekers stretches around the block. One of the hopefuls used to teach history in a public high school, before her job was cut. As the temperature starts to climb and tempers begin to fray, a manager moves down the line of applicants. “You, you. And you there. We’re not looking for your type.” Those who are too old, too heavy, too unattractive, too ethnic are sent away before they even get a chance to apply. The teacher is in her 40s. As the manager approaches, she sees rejection in his eyes. She wishes that the ground would open up at her feet and swallow her, but it won’t, and so she steps out of line and hurries towards the bus stop.
Today the county hospital is holding eye clinic. People will begin arriving at dawn, since it is first come first served. Those who live in the city are luckiest. They can ride the bus. The retired assembly line worker is not so lucky. His community has voted time and again not to fund a public transportation system, because buses would attract the “wrong sort”. You know, people who are too poor or too sick or too old---or too blind---- to drive a car. For thirty years, he worked at the local auto assembly plant, until glaucoma robbed him of his sight. He paid the sales taxes that were used to build the ballpark and the football stadium. He paid property taxes. He paid gasoline taxes. He paid income and social security taxes. The government loved him, when he was paying taxes. Now that he needs a little help, his local government wishes he would just go away.
Miles away, under the same sweltering sun, a grandmother is standing on her front porch, watching her dog pee. She and her husband bought their house fifty years ago. They paid off one loan, then took out a second to get the kids through college and paid that one off, too. Now, she can no longer afford the property tax. Next month, she will have to move in with her daughter and grandson---the one who is allergic to dogs, so she’ll have to give up her pet. On the other side of town, the burger joint has applied for a property tax abatement for its regional distribution center. It has plenty of money to pay its taxes, but why pay taxes if you can get homeowners to do it for you? It’s too bad Grandma can no longer afford the “luxury” of owning a home. She should have planned better for the future. She should never have allowed herself to grow old. And the autoworker should have thought twice before going blind, and the teacher should have chosen some other profession and the veteran was a sucker for volunteering for Bush’s war.
The veteran is feeling a little dizzy today, the result of too much sun and too little water combined with the fistful of pills that the VA gives him in lieu of counseling. He takes a wrong turn and ends up in the upwardly mobile neighborhood where the burger joint has just opened. People on the sidewalk avoid his gaze or grumble angrily. Sometimes they do both. He doesn’t hear them. He is back in Baghdad, watching his best buddy get blown to pieces, only now he’s the one who is dying. Bone and flesh explode. A hero’s death, that’s how it was supposed to be. His country never meant for him to come back home. It has no place for him and his nightmares. It has no place for the blind or the downsized or the elderly. These folks are inconvenient. They make rich bankers look greedy and selfish. They make drug company executives think about their own frailty and mortality. They make oilmen tremble in the night, afraid of what will happen when the crude runs out---
If they were real Americans, they would crawl under a rock somewhere and die, and leave the light of the sun to someone more deserving of it.
“When a doctor from Arezzo attended him and determined that nothing could be done except wait for death, Francis exclaimed with indescribable joy: ‘Welcome, Sister Death.’…What does it mean to accept death within life? It means to accept the hints of death, like, for example, limitations, illnesses, ignorance, corporeal and spiritual weakness, and all infirmities.”