The other day I missed a notice on Facebook to paste the following onto my FB status page: "No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick." I don't know if this virtual social activism achieved anything, but it was the tipping point for me to share this story and weigh in with my support for health care reform.
A few thousand years ago, after escaping enslavement in Egypt and enduring the challenges and hardship of life in the desert, the Israelites finally arrived at the border of Canaan -- the Promised Land. In preparation for fulfilling their destiny as a nation, Moses picked one leader from each of the 12 tribes to scout ahead and bring back a report on this new land.
These leaders, referred to as 'the twelve spies', returned from their Canaan 'junket' after 40 days and filed their report. They had observed great abundance, huge and plentiful fruits, strong and healthy people who were like giants to the Israelites and, in general, a land that was indeed flowing with milk and honey. The land they described was the fulfillment of a vision, long sought after, sacrificed and fought for.
However, instead of celebrating the abundance and possibility that was now in reach, 10 of these spies interpreted the evidence as reasons NOT to enter the land of Canaan. They ignored the mandate of the people, not to mention G-d, to 'spy out' the land as an inevitable reward for all of the obstacles and trials of the past and embraced instead their own fears and superstitions. They reported that the challenges of conquering this new land were overwhelming and not to be taken on. Their recommendation was to turn and run as fast as possible, even back to enslavement in Egypt if necessary, because slavery, according to them, was better than death.
Further sensing the people's fears and emboldened by their newfound ability to sway public opinion, these 10 tribal leaders continued to ply their case 'offline' around campfires and in small groups, the social networks of the day. Gossip, half truths and misinterpretations became their tools to convince the rest of the nation to also be afraid and to keep things as they were rather than take the risks associated with the unknown and unproven. They built consensus by stoking the fires of fear and criticizing any leadership that would dare to put them at such a grave and perilous risk. That was 10 of the 12's course of action.
Two other of the spies from other tribes, Caleb and Joshua, were in opposition to their 10 fellows. They spoke of the possibilities of the land, the future benefit to all and encouraged the nation to move ahead. They told of the huge fruits, the health of the present inhabitants and embraced the vision of prosperity and abundance for all. What they saw and what they related, they thought, was in keeping with the founding principles of the nation and an obvious next step in their collective vision. They knew that the people could and would find and answer to any and all obstacles.
Not willing to shift from their position, the other 10 spies countered the influence of Caleb and Joshua, propping up other leaders to reinforce the story of the monstrous and fearsome giants to which the people of Israel would be like grasshoppers, in peril of their lives. The people, their confidence already shaken by the thought of one more obstacle, became convinced of the dangers and Joshua and Caleb were attacked and condemned by the crowds.
In those times the connection and interaction with G-d was still a pretty direct one and, observing this turn of events, G-d was tempted to find another people, one that would have the courage of their convictions, for Moses to lead. Moses intervened and, once again, asked G-d for patience with these people. G-d acquiesced but, he said, there would be consequences.
The 10 leaders would be struck down with plagues and die, not instantly, but after time to reflect on their actions and consider their punishment for their misdeeds. The generation who doubted and hesitated would be sent back into the desert one year for every day that the spies had been in Canaan, until the elders of that generation had passed away (hence the 40 years of wandering). Caleb and Joshua would be rewarded with leadership positions; in fact Joshua would be Moses' heir and lead the people into Israel as fulfillment of their national destiny. Forty years passed and many suffered and died because of the fear, selfishness, and harmful rhetoric of a few.
Now if you're unfamiliar with this story you may see the leaders' punishment as harsh; especially if you think that their only sin was in advocating caution and fear, but that's not the case. If you read closely you'll see that Moses hadn't picked one person from each tribe at random. He very specifically chose tribal LEADERS; those whose abilities, talents and tenor came with the expectations and responsibilities of their positions. Their sin was not solely in recommending caution or advocating Moses to find another homeland, it was in the means they used to influence opinion. They used gossip, rumors and fear mongering in a campaign meant to cripple a possible breakthrough move for the nation, one in keeping with their purpose and identity. They didn't just fail as individuals; they failed in their roles and responsibilities to their nation.
The people were punished for their sheepishness, their ability to be swayed by the errant leaders and their valuing their own individual security over the benefit of all. They had fallen for the 'monstrous and fearsome giants' smokescreen and lost track of the general and more urgent matter of a national purpose and the values they'd been espousing as they developed their vision. The people were punished for letting others do their thinking for them, for focusing on what could go wrong rather than on what was the right thing to do.
On a national level we are witnessing the modern smoke screens: so called 'death panels', threats to quality care and free enterprise and the like. Our job as a modern, educated and progressive nation is to seek out the truth and to weigh the issues on their merits. Our job is to move into that Promised Land where no one dies because they cannot afford health care, and where no one should goes broke because they get sick.
And this Promised Land, by the way, is not my distant observation as much as it is my real and unfortunate experience. My own father died 40 years ago last month of cancer at about the same age as I am now. The cost of fighting hopelessly for his life bankrupted us, ate up my parents' life savings and our education funds. In order to feed us and pay the mounting bills my mother borrowed heavily on my father's life insurance until it ran out. When my father died we were left in insurmountable, unrecoverable debt and we did, literally, go broke because he got sick.
My father, Thomas R. Lynch, was a union man, a church sexton, a civil defense volunteer, a member of the Knights of Columbus, a devoted husband, a loving father of fourteen and an eleven year old boy's hero and best friend. There was no way he deserved what he, and we his family, suffered because of illness. Forty years later I'm done with the desert and on his behalf I call out: "No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick."
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