Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Legacy of 9-11

Catastrophic loss. Unimaginable sorrow. Incomprehensible motives. Nearly 3,000 dead. Thousands more displaced.

Feet unaccustomed to long, forced marches walked the sidewalks and bridges, winding their way homeward without taxi cabs, subways, or trains. Soon public surfaces were plastered with photographs of loved ones, lost in the rubble.

Nearby in a Pennsylvania field or at the Pentagon, passersby tried to take in the inconceivable: death and destruction. Further on in the nation and around the world, people wrote checks and organized donations for fire fighters, police officers, and rescue workers. A Victim Compensation Fund was established so that people could reclaim some measure of normalcy and begin to rebuild their lives.

The First Responders drew their breaths in a toxic world of death, decay, building materials, and explosive residues. I feared for their futures and even doubted the wisdom and motives of my government when it announced that New York City’s air was safe. After all, governments, even our own, have been caught misrepresenting the truth, downplaying health hazards, and engaging in abuses. If you doubt my truth as just stated, read about the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments begun in 1932, exposed in 1972, and acknowledged with an apology in 1997. Tuskegee is but one blight upon the enlightened progress this nation holds so dear.

As we now know, the air in and around Ground Zero was anything but safe to breathe. Many First Responders became too sick to work and lost their jobs. With their jobs went their health insurance. Without health insurance, their families were devastated by the costs of treating cancer and an array of pulmonary disease. Some lost their homes. The government promised to help, but help was slow in coming. In fact, only after Jon Stewart on The Daily Show exposed the U. S. Senate’s inattention and inaction did the funding bill for First Responders pass.

Even then, Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn held out to reduce the amount. Senator Coburn’s motives were, he said, in behalf of the American people. His interest was the budget, but when human life is in the equation, we must calculate differently.

We bear the costs of catastrophic losses as a result of raging, miles-wide fires. We underwrite the start of new life after tornadoes have decimated the foundations of our lives. We foster new growth with federal dollars after Hurricanes such as Charley and Katrina, especially because the Army Corps of Engineers was culpable and because insurance companies declared the causes of the devastation to be flood, not wind or Nature, but flood, the one category that insurance refuses to cover because—well, flood is just so darned expensive, so common, so unprofitable.

Recently, the plains have been afflicted by drought. As I drive the interstates and turnpikes criss-crossing the state east and west, north and south, I feel my heart constrict and my breathing arrest. Ponds, once level-full, cooling places for cattle and watering holes for all livestock and wildlife, are little more than puddles. Some are even dried red mud depressions, suggesting some mighty meteor has just splashed them dry. Fires, both intentionally set and an unintended consequence of human action, have seared the soil, charring homes and livelihoods in its path. The governors of affected states have been quick to file for remedies in the form of federal dollars for emergency assistance just as they have been quick to file after tornadic storms lashed states from Oklahoma to North Carolina and Alabama during a prolonged show of Nature’s might in mid-April.

What makes these dollars so available and so easy to accept? Why are people quite content to see their tax dollars spent to rebuild communities, offset the costs of additional manpower, and clean up after devastating storms? And why did Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin extend an open palm for these emergency federal dollars while spurning the $54 million grant available to implement health insurance exchanges?

Are those First Responders afflicted with lung disease less devastated than those who have lost their homes to fire? Are those children beset with autism less valuable than children whose homes were blown away by tornadoes? Are those whose genes lead them inexorably to Lou Gehrig’s end somehow responsible while hurricane survivors are not?

The number-one reason for declaring bankruptcy is medical cost, followed by job loss, uncontrolled spending, divorce, and catastrophic loss as a result of fire or water or wind. We help the latter without hesitation, but if a man is felled by illness and disease or disability, whether caused in the service of this nation overseas or in New York City at Ground Zero, our national will recedes.

Shall we not be a nation willing to help a man, woman or child become strong again? Shall we not bankrupt the family because one member falls? Shall we not care when an invisible germ or gene twists a man’s fate as much as we care when a very visible force of Nature stunts his growth?

I think we must help all people grow strong, straight and true even if we must bear more of the cost ourselves. As I said in this blog last week, please give and give generously. Our desire must be to give the best that we have within and without. Our desire must be to extend a hand, through tax dollars as well as personal investments, so that those living in hard times can stand again.