Doing nothing is very hard to do ... you never know when you're finished.
Leslie Nielsen
That was a quote on my home page yesterday. It made me laugh because that is precisely what I have been doing for the past week. I had big plans - but I've been doing nothing. I hope to be finished with it today, though. I'm off to the Chinese Medicine people who will, I deeply hope, make my shoulder and neck cease their joint attempt to turn me into a pretzel. Sleeping in the recliner in the living room is a novelty that has lost its fascination.

Being up all night, neither able to sleep, nor to read (can't hold a book), nor to write (at desk chair, computer, or with a pen in a journal - same reason), and equally immobile during the daylight hours as in the dark, has meant more time than usual looking at the television. Thus, I was awake and watching last night as the announcement about Ted Kennedy came over the airwaves (are the satellites sending "air" waves to my dish? is that as obsolete as "don't touch that dial?") The whole Kennedy family doesn't so much fade away as flame out. No one ever accused any of them of doing nothing. RIP, sir. Heaven will be heaven indeed if even the hyper-vigorous sons of Joe and Rose find rest within its glories.Thinking about Ted Kennedy and all his active relatives makes me think about the interviews with Maria Shriver I've read. The whole family has a pulse of (often too idealistic, ever demanding, perfectionistic, but real) noblesse oblige coursing through their veins. Although we might argue what right old Joe had to the notion of nobility (has the world ever seen a more thoroughly American entrepreneurial opportunist?), the truth of the matter must include the years of service the family has given. Public service. Service to the country.

The country is going to bury another of Rose and Joseph's sons right in the middle of another national shouting match over the "rights" and "role" of "government." This time it's health care again. Yelling desk pounders and ideologues and fear mongers on all sides are pumped up and ready to lend their energy to the noise, and eventually things will settle into a consensus of sorts. That's what we do in America. We brawl in the school yard, but then the bell rings and we go back to school. (We also organize soccer games and play four square, hopscotch and catch in those school yards, and we do that a lot more than we fight.)I've been thinking about the things we have in this land governed by the people for the people, where we pledge our allegiance to liberty and justice for all. You'd never know it if you listened to one side of the crowd currently shouting, "fight! fight! fight!" but the fact is that this land has decided on several occasions that some stuff is public. We want some things to belong to everyone. We all believe in noblesse oblige, and we're all the nobility here, just like the Kennedy family.

Schools, for instance. We think kids have a right to a basic education. I wish we could also figure out that the country would benefit from a lot of liberal arts students in college, but so far we Americans tend to enjoy recess more than lit and history. Someday, maybe. When we figure this one out, we will know what to do about the counterproductive cost of college tuition, the ballooning expenses of the textbook racket, and the mind boggling insanity of students who can get credit cards but cannot get cheap health care or insurance.
(Textbook: n., from the synonyms text and book. def.: (1) outrageously expensive hardbound publications sold quarterly in college bookstores; (2) any volume containing information such as one would hear during ineffectual committee meetings; (3) large, often heavy books which are nearly useless in the short term, and never do come in handy in the long term.)
But public schools aren't the only thing we have decided we want to belong to everyone. While alternating hot and cold packs and flipping channels this week, I have thought about several other things we, the public, value as public property.

We have:

public libraries - local and national

public parks - local and nationalpublic broadcasting (I know there are people on one side of the crowd who would be okay with this one disappearing, but I value it)

public safety - more or less from time to time and in various places, but held as a right we do not question

public policy

And none of these things make the private versions of them impossible or even improbable. In fact, I'd assert that the public version makes the private version much more ... well, private. When we have public libraries, our private libraries can specialize. Our own book collections seem "irreplaceable," but for most of us, that is not true, except sentimentally. Public libraries mean that we have access to information we need not privately own.

Public parks have the same relationship to our private yards and gardens and window boxes and herbs in a cup on the windowsill, don't they? Owning the lawns and fauna and flora in common in the public space means we are all as rich as the lords of the manor, yet we have only the care and keeping of the stuff in our own, privately managed homes.
This is what I think about a "public option" in health insurance. It seems bizarre to say that access to doctors and health care (of all kinds - conventional and alternative) is only for "private" ownership. For one thing, we already have governmental funding for a lot of it, and cheering, fist-thrusting crowds of right-leaning folks notwithstanding, nobody wants to pay "out of pocket" "fee for service" money when their aging parents need care. It's schizophrenic to claim that we don't want this or don't already have it.

But not only do we already have public health care for some of the population, we should! Just as we have a happier, stronger, calmer and safer population when we have public schools, parks, safety, information and policies, so we could have a healthier public if we had public health options. And just as we take nothing from public school when we also have homeschools, magnet schools, correspondence schools, special education, and Sylvan Learning Centers, so we would take nothing from the individual private citizen by having publicly funded, basic access to medical professionals.

I think that's what America does best. I think it's our ability to pool our resources, own things in common, and also still respect each other's privacy that makes us great. Here's another example. Like it or lump it - or deny the moon landing altogether - we all paid for the space program - and we all use Velcro now because of it - but nobody has to. Despite the existence of Velcro, you're still allowed to tie your own shoes with shoelaces, and you can have them in any color you want. Public is not the opposite of private. In a lot of ways, public makes private better. America is famously, publicly private, and that is what makes us healthy, wealthy, and wise.

This fight we're having in the national school yard is a whole lot of doing nothing. I know it has to happen this way - it always happens this way. But until we start to do something, we won't know when we're finished. Hopscotch, anyone?

1 comment:

Deanna said...

Bravo! I'm sharing the link to this post on Facebook and possibly on one or both of my blogs. Beautifully stated.