Distance

“We are very worried.  We do not want socialized medicine.  We’re doing ok now with Medicare and with our supplemental policy”.

And out there on the deck, on a warm and muggy afternoon,  ice waters sweating rings into the table, I do not know what to say.

I’m at a family gathering, a milestone birthday for a matriarch.  Some of us here never went to high school, most did get a diploma, a small number  of us went to graduate school (one after getting her B.S. as a non-traditional student years after she walked out of high school at 16,, fed up with all that was being done to her there).

We have come from across the country. Our connections now are mainly via phone and email. There is much love and familiarity, many stories of “remember when” around the table long after we’ve  finished our dinners.

And there are many moments, like the one on the deck, when I’m diminished by the distances between us.

I make my living via reason, by drawing on evidence, by  pressing  people’s thinking in new directions.

And there on the deck, I knew that for her, the phrase “socialized medicine” repeated over and over in email newsletters that she gets, in the media that she watches, on the websites that she tracks, has power that my reason, logic, and lucid presentation of evidence probably can’t infiltrate.

There was real fear out there on that deck.

My friends and I have argued health care for months now, but we’re all essentially on the same side.

And none of us are afraid.

Out there on the deck, I remembered the health scare almost 20 years ago that wiped out the savings that had been been built dollar by dollar over a life time of very hard work.   I thought of how painfully high their monthly premiums are for that supplemental policy.    I thought the news from a daughter on our long walk earlier in the day that the osteoporosis is severe, in part because the recommended treatments five years ago weren’t done because there was no way to pay for them, and she didn’t want to burden any of her kids.

And somehow, now,  the deepest fear is that the insurance companies will have less control over the direction of her health care in the years to come.

And I’m diminished by the distance between us, because the things I’ve learned through way too many years of schooling can’t adequately address the fear.   I’m diminished by the realization that she has almost no contact with anyone who doesn’t share her fear of “socialized medicine” and that in my daily life, I have almost no contact with anyone who gets those emails, watches those news channels, even knows about those websites.
Until we all come together again as family, on a warm and muggy day, and I have  no idea what to say.

5 thoughts on “Distance

  1. Allison August 15, 2009 / 5:51 am

    I have an aunt who is battling cancer. She is unemployed and has no healthcare insurance. How does she pay? By signing up for experimental treatments. And her sister and best friend, my aunt who takes her to treatments and watches over her, is afraid of socialized healthcare. It breaks my heart.

  2. janevangalen August 17, 2009 / 1:52 pm

    Hi Alison,

    It is heartbreaking.

    And I feel so ineffective. And I have absolutely no idea how to find a way into the conversation in a convincing way. It’s not about logic and evidence; it’s about some other deep-seated, emotionally-charged defiance of the ideas of people *like me*, even though I’m family and otherwise loved…

    I really do want to know if others have been more successful in moving past the slogans of “socialized medicine” and “death panels”. What, other than argument, works?

  3. Julie August 17, 2009 / 8:58 pm

    I’ve shared this beautiful post with other colleagues who share (with you, with me) the pain of family ties across the political divide. One, a preeminent scholar, wrote that you should seriously consider submitting it to the New Yorker. I hope you do.

    • janevangalen August 19, 2009 / 5:51 am

      Thanks Julie…it’s never comfortable writing about such moments. I appreciate your feedback a great deal.

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