Tonight, I did something I rarely do. I went to a suburban bar with a cover band playing. This trip was solely for the purpose of attending the birthday party of someone who I have met in person once in my life. This person is friends with my partner but, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t really know me from Adam. Nonetheless, I made the trek and paid the five dollar cover, because it seemed like the right thing to do.
When I arrived, I was surprised to be greeted by a room full of veritable strangers with warm smiles and hugs. It did not take long for people to ask me if I needed drink or to offer me a seat in a crowded room. I am not a particularly open or familiar person. In fact, I am painfully shy at times. However, that did not matter tonight. Because it is close to the holidays and we are American adults. This is what we do. We smile and extend kindness to those who we believe have extended kindness to our friends and comrades. I was accepted and made to feel like family by a group of strangers simply because I am kind to and care for one of their own. This is our culture. We care for those who care for those who we care about.
Why then, do we have so much trouble passing a bill which provides care to those who responded to the trauma and violence of September 11, 2001 by risking their own well being in order to ensure the well being of others?
As Americans, we often show caring and compassion for those who we perceive to have been wronged, either by other people or by the system itself. We are quick to respond to calls for charitable donations and we are proud of it. Yet we seem to have no problem allowing congress to not pass a law which will provide healthcare for those who responded to the September 11th disaster by rushing into the chaos and attempting t help those who were most directly affected.
How is this even possible?
Much like every other American, I think I remember that day very clearly and I know I remember the aftermath of that day as clear as anything. I can clearly remember everyone I came in contact with clutching their newly purchase American flags and sentimental materials and waxing poetic about heroism and the nature of the American consciousness. I remember a lot of talk about coming together and supporting one another in an extremely trying time. I remember the endless platitudes and syllogisms about colors that don’t run and the strength of a nation. It seemed like everyone around me wanted to talk about how powerful we can be when we come together and support each other.
And, as sentimentally overwrought as some of these expressions may have been, they all had a grain of truth.
We can be powerful when we come together.
We can change the world, or at least our world, when we collectively decide to do the right thing.
But we didn’t.
Granted, we did care for a while. We extended hugs and generosity and understanding like I have never seen before or after. For at least a few weeks following the tragedy, we lived in the America which I had always imagined had existed long before I was born; The America where every citizen extended a warm hand to every other citizen and we care for each other like family. Then, the bubble burst. We became fearful of other Americans who were too similar to our middle eastern neighbors in dress and religious creed. We became entrenched in several wars and began to bicker, once again, about foreign policy and economic legislation. We forgot to be unified.
We forgot our unity and we forgot about those who volunteered to help in one of the most frightening events I have ever seen.
We focused instead on tax cuts, abortion, NAFTA and a host of other issues. We bickered and argued and campaigned and voted. Somewhere, in the sound and the fury of our everyday lives and the endless shout outs of frustration, admiration and support to soldiers and politicians alike, we forgot to check on the very people who had, not so long ago, rushed head on into the smoldering destruction just to make sure others were safe. While we were debating and campaigning and speaking out many of these men and women were becoming ill as a result of their bravery and we never noticed.
They are sick and some of them are dying. The right thing to do would be to pay for their healthcare. If they were enlisted soldiers, who were being ordered to help and paid for their service during the September 11h attacks, they would have at least their basic healthcare needs taken care of, and rightfully so. However, many of these people were neither ordered nor paid to attempt to aid others in such a frightening and chaotic time. Many of them are simply American citizens who felt that they could and should offer a helping hand during a crisis. They rushed in when most were fleeing.
As a result of this, many of them became ill and our government, the people who we voted into office, will not pass a bill which provides them with the care they need.
Last week, congress voted down a bill which would provide healthcare to those who were sickened as a direct result of their actions in support of other Americans on September 11, 2001. And very few people seem to care.
Less than one week ago, my inbox and news feeds were flooded by people who were changing their profile pictures to support a war on a concept.
This week, a very real and challengeable fact became public, and no one reacted.
This is shameful to me.
However, it doesn’t have to be.
We can change it.
If you are one of the many Americans who cared on September 11 and continues to care now about the men and women who bravely sacrificed their own sense of well being in order to insure that of others, then I urge you to look up your local senator and harass the living hell out of them. Send letters, make phone calls, put the word out on facebook, twitter and myspace. Scream from the rooftops. Hold a sit in. Throw rocks through the windows of politicians. Do whatever it takes to be heard. Support the 9/11 Responders act and demand that those who you have voted into office do the same. It is the only right thing to do.
Please America, restore my faith in you.
As Christmas and all of its attendant sentiments approaches, please do what you can to make sure that these people are not left without the care they deserve for any longer.
I double dog dare you to.