Yes, it’s that time of year at last; a time of peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and a momentary hiatus when the rats take a break from the rat race to actually be civil to each other. For the time being, at least.
What follows is not going to challenge anybody’s idea of a Christmas story. It’s a Wonderful Life will still emerge intact as the holiday tale of choice, as it should. This commentary will not emerge as a pretender to that throne. But it will, I hope, provide a snapshot of the year-end goings on of yours truly, and capture the tenor of the times, if not the spirit of the season. Sound good? O.K. Let’s get to it.
It’s been a threadbare year, but a good one, despite the hardships. I attended two benchmark 40-year reunions this year – that of my old Vietnam unit over Memorial Day, and my high school class of 1969 in August.
They were important events, because both – in different ways – served as a benchmark for how far we’ve come, both as respective groups and as a nation. But, as we forged into the holiday season, several seemingly unrelated events served to bring focus to a sea-change event soon to take shape inside the beltway.
As the holidays approached, I was all set and ready to make my annual pilgrimage over the river and across the desert from my Southern California enclave to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Problem was, this was the season my car chose to fall apart. And, on the meager living I eek out from the local school district, I found myself unable to make the journey – for either holiday.
“O.K.,” you may observe, “what’s the big deal? Happens to everyone sooner or later.”
True enough. But since the death of my daughter in a traffic accident six years ago – along with her three kids – I’ve taken to spending the holidays with Andy and Helena (once again) in the desert city where I spent fifteen years in my younger days. How do I describe my relationship with this couple?
They were the kind of people, who, if you had no place to go during the holidays, were welcome to spend it with them. That’s how it started. I was working at a local hotel at the time – Vegas observes no holiday season for its hotel workers – and Andy and Helena set up a rotating buffet, available to anyone coming off shift who wanted to partake of the feast. I came that year for Thanksgiving, came again for Christmas, and a tradition was born. I didn’t always make the trip – for many years, I spent the holiday with my daughter and grandkids in Atlanta – but that situation changed dramatically a few years ago as I’ve already mentioned.
Andy and Helena provided the only genuinely unconditional love I’ve ever received. There’s no better way to put it. And I was grateful that the door was still open after my daughter’s death when the holidays became, shall we say, less joyous than they should have been. I was still welcome, as was anyone who had nowhere to go, and wanted to partake of the fellowship and the feast. They never checked anyone’s pedigree at the door.
Since that time, and since all of us were getting older, and since I was uncomfortably close to the phenomenon, I often wondered – aloud at times, and to both of them – if the particular holiday we were then enjoying at the time was going to be our last. They were philosophical about it, as many elderly people often become as they grow closer to the end of the run. But last December – or more accurately last January – we crapped out.
He suffered from complications of COPD and emphysema. Andy loved his pipe and smoked it right up to the day he went into the hospital. He went in for treatment of a back injury, picked up a kidney infection, developed trouble breathing, and died. It happens when you’re 78.
But at least Andy had the best medical care available. At least he wasn’t confronted with some government bureaucrat, wringing his hands, shaking his head, and painfully informing his family that, due to fiscal constraints, his coverage under ObamaCare © would not permit the most efficacious treatment available. At least he was spared that. I mean, the man was 78 and retired. What useful purpose did he serve? What possible justification could merit spending tens of thousands of dollars to prolong his life? And for how long? But, I’m sure he would have had available a compassionate program of humane euthanasia to ease his suffering and thereby alleviate the burdens on an already fiscally strained public health care system.
At least he managed to escape before he had to confront that monstrosity.
Locally, Pastor Phil at my church, is the father of four adorable, precocious quadruplets. By all accounts, they are not the result of fertility treatments, but as natural as natural can be. The kids are four years old this year – slightly beyond the toddler years, but not quite ready for school.
Phil’s son, Chad, contracted childhood leukemia.
So, for Pastor Phil and his family, this holiday season is beyond bittersweet. It’s indescribable. It’s times like these that we find out what we’re made of. My church is noted for its vast productions and its congregation that has a hunger for the spotlight. We’re the lords of the manor, after all. We own the local valley – most of us anyway – and while hard times have hit us, they haven’t crushed us either.
But, at these times, you find out very quickly who’s grabbing for the microphone, and elbowing everybody else out of the spotlight with bold claims of miraculous healing as a result of their righteous prayers. Then you discover who among the flock has four-in-the-morning courage. I never knew I had it, but it looks like I do. I’m on the late-night hospital watch.
You see, Pastor Phil stands poised at the threshold of the fraternity of death in a most ghastly way. He stares into the face of losing a child. Trust me, that’s a fraternity nobody wants to be part of. And it’s growing at an alarming rate.
But, for all his anguish, at a time when he and Chad should be walking the Alta Loma nights, not holding vigil at a local hospital, Pastor Phil has private health insurance. And for all his concerns, well, one of them is not dealing with some federal officer who, with a pained expression on his face, patiently explains to this afflicted father that his son is only three years old, and far from a contributing member of society. In fact, it will be years before he can shoulder the burden of earning a living, thereby supporting the massive fiscal engine that fuels ObamaCare © and makes all this cutting edge medical care possible. Then again, just what could young Chad possibly do, even if he did reach the age of maturity? Every good job worth having has long since gone to India. Just what livelihood will he pursue in a nation that lives to consume? And not even goods we produce ourselves, but products manufactured for us by others.
I mean, didn’t Peter Singer, the award winning ethicist from Princeton University state in his defining position paper that humane euthanasia of infants was not only ethical but a moral imperative for defective children up to a month old? It was a matter of self-awareness, was it not? Or the lack thereof. And wasn’t that window of opportunity then extended to three months? And then six? Surely we could apply a compassionate program of humane euthanasia to this suffering child, now couldn’t we? Surely the death panel assembled to review this tragic case would approve it, would they not? Surely it would be covered. And it would spare the government countless thousands of dollars in needlessly prolonging the suffering of an innocent child. Without question, an enlightened populace could find its way to relieve this family of its painful financial burdens.
But, we can rejoice. Young Chad has only to concentrate on beating the disease, not beating the government.
And then there’s Holly. She cut quite a figure on the dance floor when her husband Rudy met her in 1975. Now she’s pushing 300 lbs., is plagued with a bad case of diabetes, fibromyalgia, and MS, with which she is confined to a wheelchair. Rudy takes care of her.
I also know them from church. I met Rudy in a small group. He’s a good friend, and a fellow Christian He’s also a Marine Corps veteran – I do keep running into them, now don’t I? – with twenty-twomonths service in-country in Vietnam behind him. A good man to know and a bad man to cross.
Rudy was a point man in a rifle platoon – nine months into a voluntary second tour – when he popped red smoke in a hot LZ and tangled with an RPG at close range. The blast blew his helmet to bits and peppered his skull with steel fragments. He spent twenty months in and out of naval hospitals when he came home, and when it was over, he came out with a steel plate in his head and a monkey on his back, as the John Prine song goes. A latter day Sam Stone if ever there was one. He got hooked on pain killers, and from there to hallucinogens. For all that, and after years of fighting the devil, he managed to get clean and stay clean. He retired with a pension from the U.S. Postal Service and a partial disability from the Marine Corps.
But he beat the odds. He did accomplish that much. Rudy came out the other side. There wasn’t much left of him when he did. A lot of him was gone. But he did emerge into the light.
He doesn’t say much anymore. It’s an effort for him to talk. But when he’s got something to say, well, he’s got something to say. And people listen to him. Right now, he’s retired, suffering from intermittent seizures, and takes care of Holly.
Holly has a problem controlling her blood sugar. Always has. Right now, she’s in a diabetic coma at the same hospital at which Pastor Phil’s son is undergoing chemotherapy. Holly is one sick woman. But Rudy has private health insurance as part of his government pension. He wonders how long it will last under ObamaCare ©. But right now, he doesn’t have to deal with an understanding health care official who patiently explains to him that his wife is a fifty-nine year old woman whose best years are behind her. He doesn’t have to hear about the massive financial burden she poses to a fiscally strapped system of medical care. And he certainly does not have to contend with a compassionate program of humane euthanasia, which could mercifully put her out of her misery and ease the pressures on a public system of health care that is strained to the breaking point.
So, I’m running Rudy down to the hospital since he cannot drive due to the seizures. But, Rudy is a brother veteran, so I’m happy to lend a hand. Like Helena and Andy, Rudy doesn’t care about anyone’s pedigree. He only cares who’s got his back. He had mine once.Now, I’ve got his. It’s only right.
So, this holiday season is one filled with burdens. And they’re coming with the power of an avalanche. It’s never a good thing to get buried under a spiritual snowfall, but even worse at Christmas time.
Then there’s my little predicament.
Since September, I’ve landed on the couch of one of my fellow Class of ’69 alumni. She was quite taken with my Normandy experience, and since I had to vacate my residence on the very day of the reunion, and since she took it upon herself to assist in my efforts to get this monumental saga of what went on during that delirious month of June 2004 in Europe, I have landed on her couch and have been there ever since. Rest assured, she’s tucked into her warm little bed every night, and I am awkwardly ensconced on the couch. No problem there. No desire to be anywhere else.
This isn’t charity, by a long shot. Every month, she gets a portion of the firstfruits of my meager little paycheck. It’s not much. And it’s certainly not enough for being rescued from these California winter nights, no matter how mild. But, she gets something every month. My idea, not hers.
Problem is, we’re as different as night and day.
Unlike Rudy, unlike Helena and Andy, unlike Pastor Phil, she is very much concerned with the pedigree of the peopleshe encounters. Compounding this, she has just been grafted in with the movers and shakers of the select group of insiders of the Class of ‘69, after forty years of being a beggar at the feast.
It’s a highly first-rate fraternity. All of them have private health insurance. All of them are completely unconcerned about what goes on in Washington. You see, they’re the 10%ers. Like the Washington elite, they will never have to contend with the limitations of ObamaCare ©. They are enormously competent, magnetically charismatic, and have made a lifetime practice of landing on their feet, on the top of the heap.
Well, you can’t bring a mutt to a gathering of purebreds. That’s a basic line of departure when dealing with the In Crowd. So, I’m expecting the We’ve-got-to-have-a-talk talk. Because you can’t move in those circles if you’ve got one of the great unwashed scum splashing mud on your nice, clean Gucci high heels, now can you?
As for me, I’m expecting my walking papers soon. If it was me who wanted to impress this elite group of sophisticated insiders of which she is now the newest member in good standing, I’d give me my walking papers on Christmas Eve. As a rite of initiation, it’s quite a gasser. No better way to impress the right kind of people than to shed your excess baggage on that night above all others. So, I’m packing and getting ready to hit the road.
But I’ll still be around for Pastor Phil, and Rudy, and Helena, if she survives. As long as they want or need the support, I’ll be around to lend a hand.
So, a hearty Merry Christmas, this joyous holiday season to all the movers and shakers who shape our world.
First of all, a joyous holiday season to MaryLandrieu (D-LA). Hope she enjoys snuggling up to her cash register on Christmas Eve. She’s been described as a $300 million whore, and I hear Elliot Spitzer is looking for her phone number. Hope it was worth it to sign her generation’s death warrant.
Then there’s Ben Nelson (D-NE). May he have a Merry Christmas that defies description. Hope he has no problem looking in the mirror considering he sold his country – or what’s left of it – into bankruptcy for 30 pieces of silver. Even Judas Iscariot had remorse after betraying the Lord. That speaks more highly of him than it does for Ben Nelson.
As for me, aside from my impending offer to hit the road, Jack, I’ve just been turned down (again) for VA medical coverage. My correspondence patiently explained to me that the VA has been called upon to extend its area of responsibility to service the needs of more diverse elements of our community (illegals) and, as such, cannot provide coverage to yours truly at this time. But I am welcome to reapply once the current health care legislation has been voted upon.
And that’s a wrap, this Christmas. Hope everyone has a good one. I intend to, wherever I end up. And, as Tiny Tim so eloquently put it, “May God bless us, everyone.” It’s a cinch bet ObamaCare © never will.