Twenty years ago, the federal government shut down for about a two week period during the second term of President Bill Clinton.
I will never forget it. A friend of mine who was working for a government social service agency at that time observed the following events transpire.
First, my friend was called into work as the only employee who was deemed to be necessary and essential. Everyone else including the Supervisor was told to stay home.
Second, the next day my friend reported that the husband of one of his patients killed himself by hanging, after an overdose of prescription psychotropic medication and alcohol.
Third, two days later my friend said that he walked out to his kitchen to make morning coffee and he saw on the television the back of the head of one of his clients, who was appearing before a local judge , accused of smashing the head of his eighteen month old son into a garage concrete floor and killing him. The child apparently suffered from Autism.
My friend stated that most of that morning was spent on the phone talking to Washington, D.C. and completing fatality reports regarding the tragedy.
My friend also received supportive phone calls from military commands that said "take care of yourself, do what you can do. We know that there is only one of you. "
That made a world of difference regarding how well my friend coped during this time.
The politicians, who are arguing for a shutdown of the government in protest to funding Planned Parenthood and its alleged advocacy of harvesting fetal tissue, never are present to witness the consequences of terminating the daily operations of the government.
It's way more than not being able to visit a particular museum or a national park. What is really at stake here concerns life and death decisions regarding people.
The most recent government shutdown of 2013 and the resulting Sequestration produced a delay in payment of salaries to government workers, including those working in the defense shipyards. This produced great economic hardship for the workers and their families and for communities whose economy and tax base depends upon government workers.
When we hear politicians express great bravado about the evils of "big government, "funny we don't see them volunteering at soup kitchens or food pantries to assist those who are effected by a government shutdown.
The reality is that the vulnerable in our society can't wait. You can't tell a person who needs insulin or a cancer drug that they receive at a government health clinic, that they need to wait two weeks because some politicians in the House and Senate, want to grandstand and embarrass the current Presidential administration.
Where is the leadership here? There certainly isn't any compassion being expressed nor any comprehension regarding the consequences of such short-sighted, small-minded, mean-spirited tactics.
Pope Francis stated that when he started his tenure at the Vatican, an aide took him aside and said to him, "don't forget the poor. "
So far, Francis has appeared to live up to this challenge.
The vulnerable among us cannot wait. Furthermore, it is not morally, ethically and legally defensible that we use them and manipulate them as pawns.
As Jackson Browne observed:
"And you would think with all of the genius
And the brilliance of these times;
We might find a higher purpose
and a better use of mind. "
May we use our minds well and not be mindless regarding how we treat the poor and vulnerable and all of humankind.
May it be so.