photo by Sheri Dixon

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"You Used to Be So Normal"

I have a confession.

I voted Republican pretty much exclusively till about ten years ago.

My family was working class middle class Lutheran class Midwesterners settled into a mid-sized town squished between Milwaukee and Chicago and perched precariously on the shores of Lake Michigan.

So here's what I was taught-

-Work hard and you'll be rewarded. At least well enough to keep your family fed and clothed and housed. Which is all you should expect- just that is enough to say daily prayers of thanksgiving for and anything more is frankly a burden most people can't handle.

-Pray sincerely and you'll be rewarded. There's a special place in Heaven for good people who attend church, tithe without fudging and kick a little something into the (socially approved) charity of your choice for extra bonus Angel Points.

-Listen to your teachers and get good grades in school, for therein lies the path to success, to contentment, to a life every bit as good as your parents' and grandparents' lives. A 9-2-5 taxable employment, a mortgage, a marriage, 2.5 perfect children.

Anyone not following the above rules and steps and who succeeded anyway was unusual, and anyone not following the above rules and steps and did not attain the (implied) promised rewards was doing it wrong. Hadn't tried hard enough. Needed to (cue music)...

... pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.

It's what the Republicans believed, so I voted Republican, as did my parents and their parents before them.

Then things got sorta wonky.

Despite following all the rules (I had employment, church, a marriage, a mortgage, and the appropriate number of children) everything fell apart.

My marriage ended. My church looked at me sideways. I had a hard time on my own keeping the house...and the children.

What the hell?

Surely I had done something wrong so I...

...picked myself up, dusted myself off and started all over again. In Texas.

I worked damn hard- two full time jobs- one day job and one night job. I bought a house and found a (tremendously fabulous) husband. We had a baby.

I did not find a new church. Though I had no quarrel with God, I was kinda miffed at the church for abandoning me. That was the first paver on the path to being a non-conservative.

But still I voted Republican.

Then Ward got sick.

He had insurance through his job- a job he'd held for well over five years and had never missed a day of work. Ward's cancer took a fair amount of time to take care of- several surgeries and hospitalizations and all of it painful, awful, exhausting, disfiguring. The man never took a minute to recover. We drove to the cancer hospital the day before surgery (or 2 days before if pre-op appointments were needed), he had surgery, was discharged from the hospital, we'd drive home the next day and the day after THAT? Back at his desk at 8am.

He worked through six weeks of radiation.

He worked through it all not because he loved his job- frankly he didn't. He hated his job and it was killing his soul to be there. I'd watch him go off every day and my heart would break seeing his shoulders stoop a little bit each step he took to the car. He worked because it was the right thing to do...and he needed the insurance.

It ended up not mattering.

He got fired (sorry- "downsized") because the company was going in another direction and for losing a lot of work time "to this cancer-thing".

COBRA was hideously expensive- it would have taken his entire salary just to pay for it, except he didn't HAVE a salary anymore. The high-risk pool wouldn't take him till he was ineligible for COBRA and had used it. He was without insurance. And with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

The next scheduled scans we were told had to be paid for in advance, in cash, no exceptions. No matter that he'd had insurance up to that point. No matter that he'd been approved for Social Security Disability that would take effect a few months hence. No matter he was already a patient. We were told that if we couldn't afford the scans, we could wait till the SSD kicked in and that "He probably won't die before then".

Said the little girl in the business office with no medical experience.

I started looking hard at those around us. ALL those around us. Alot of them what I would've considered "slackers" in my younger years.

People losing their homes, their jobs, their everything due to illness, due to the economy, due to circumstance beyond control.

And it had nothing to do with how hard they worked, or how fervently they prayed.

Shit Just Happened.

The whole "work hard/pray harder/be rewarded" ideology turned out to be a house of cards, a smoke screen, fallacy and fairy tale.

I couldn't stomach the discourse anymore. Because I knew better. I had seen the Truth, and it was bitter.

Here's the thing.

You'd think it would be claw yer eyeballs out scary to know that all of the by-the-book-rules that form the foundation of conservative society are hogwash, but it's really not.

After the initial "HOLY SHIT WHAT DO WE HOLD ON TO NOW???" moment it's crystal clear.

We hold on to each other. Help each other. Care for each other. Respect each other.

Whether they "look" like they "deserve" helping or not.

Because the truth of the matter is it's not OUR place to judge. It's our place as card carrying members of the Human Race to care for each other.

Not tell each other what to do, how to live, what to think, how to vote, what can be done with your own personal body, how much care you or your loved ones have EARNED according to some bullshit manual or doctrine- part of being human is the acceptance and respect of the Free Will of others and compassion for their distress for Yea Verily all of us will at sometime or other be so distressed...or worse.

I stopped being a black/white right/wrong conservative not because I couldn't play by the rules I grew up with, but because I realized that the only way to "win" using those rules is to be lucky. Literal Dumb Luck. Merit had exactly zero to do with it.

I became a tree-hugging bleeding heart liberal not because I go through life wearing rose-colored glasses and wearing flowers in my hair, but because I don't. I see injustice and I hear intolerance and my hair is gray and my soul weeps.

Life is hard. Shit happens willy nilly and without warning or reason.

And though we may FEEL more secure holding onto false truths and bogus rules, we'll BE more secure once we realize that the only safety net consists of...each other.

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