Sort [on Flawed Wednesday]

As I type this morning, concrete barriers are being set to block off the streets downtown, fencing is going up around the courthouse, plywood panels are once again screwed into place, covering the windows of businesses. We are hunkering down for an announcement about whether or not the officer, who shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times, will be charged. Also, the little kid with the big, big gun who murdered two people blocks from our home is being arraigned. His bail was posted by the My Pillow Guy. Truly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Also as I type this morning, the party wrapped in red on Capitol Hill is choosing personal gain over principle. Despite placing their hand on a holy book and swearing to serve the Constitution above all else, they’ve chosen – they are choosing – to serve their ambition above all else. Apparently, the holy book and the Constitution are useful props for photo ops but any real dedication ran away with the fox.

As I write this I’m suddenly flush with a revelation that I blame on Horatio. He once told me that every challenge we face in these supposed-united-states is a tension between dueling philosophies: Every-Man-For-Himself vs. I-Am-My-Brother’s-Keeper. My revelation: To believe, again and again, that leaders-wrapped-in-red who are committed above all else to personal gain should honor an oath to something larger than themselves, like their holy book or The Constitution, makes us the fools. It is the natural end, the path of least resistance, for adherents of the philosophy of selfishness, to believe in nothing greater than themselves.

And, after today, why should we expect them to represent with integrity our best interests? They are demonstrating just how incapable they are at leading. Leadership, by definition, requires a concern about something other, something greater, than your self.

Why should we expect more? Red is the new yellow. To twist a bit from Forrest Gump, “Cowardice is as cowardice does.” It is nigh-on impossible to write a farce of these conflicted-united-states. Such is our dedication to the ridiculous, the mad-fantastical.

2020 was the blue ribbon winner of miserable years. Our picture was blown to bits. So, as part of our new years invocation, we did a jigsaw puzzle. 1000 pieces. We brought order and sense and, finally, a completed picture together from so much disarray. It is what we hope to do for ourselves in 2021.

The first step was to sort, to turn over the pieces and see what was really there. Find the edges. Colors. And, so it is. Today we sort.

We’ll again pack a “go bag” in case the expected violence spills into our street. We’ll witness the antics of a failed state as performed by the privileged, sacrificing the greater for the lesser. Seeing what is really there. Accepting what is really there. “The problem with you, Robinson,” Doug delighted in saying, “is that you want it all to make sense. None of it makes sense.”

Red is the new yellow. Where, oh where, will we ever find our edges?

read Kerri’s blog post about the PUZZLE

Pull The Curtain [on KS Friday]

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I once heard an author speak of the impossibility of writing a farce about The United States of America. He said that before the last chapter was written, the farce will have actually occurred. The bar of absurdity drops quickly from sea to shining sea.

Today we are watching the collapse of the American mythology “The best health care in the world.” In the face of a public health emergency we are seeing with greater clarity how fractured and incapable our system is of delivering even the most basic of services. That statement, sadly, is a daily fact in the USA for many of its citizens (more on that in a moment) but the pandemic has pulled the curtain on the wizard. Oz is not what it seems.

In the past 24 hours I’ve heard it reported multiple times: the difference between our inept response – beyond the absence of coherent leadership – and other nations, is the system itself. In a single payer system no one is confused about what to do or where to go and no one is reticent to seek medical care because of the costs. The necessary tests are available because profit is not the primary motive; public health is.

Our system is a shattered mess of profiteering and, I believe, intentional obfuscation.  Even the people within the system can’t get a straight answer so they can’t provide a lucid response to even the most basic of questions. Yesterday, our question was, “How much does it cost?”  A mere 24 hours ago, Kerri had her first occupational therapy session for her broken wrists. We called our insurance provider to check to see if we were covered. The OT facility also called and we both received two opposing stories. A third call was placed and a third answer was given. So, a fourth call to the insurance provider was made and, yes, a fourth story, a competing answer was proffered.

Four calls. Four stories. The policy itself is ambiguous. We asked the intake receptionist how much the therapy would cost if we decided to pay out of pocket. Her answer, “It depends.” Can we pay the bill we will most certainly receive or should we forgo the therapy altogether? [note: my wife makes her living playing the piano so this is no small or insignificant question]. Kerri started to cry. Standing within the pages of this farce, I started to laugh. No one (outside of the USA) would believe it if I wrote it.

Within 24 hours, our personal farce went nationwide. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIAID, said it best of our national travesty-of-a-system “It’s failing. Let’s admit it.”

The lucrative business of health care has blinded us for decades to the real needs of public health. We are, by any measure, an increasingly unhealthy society (check obesity rates, infant mortality, teen suicides, etc. if you doubt me). It seems to me that the point of health care should be the health of the public and not profit margins. The conversations coming from the White House are about whether or not our tests and treatments for a pandemic will be covered or not. It’s penny wise and pound foolish. It’s also obscene.

Kerri and I pay nearly half of our combined incomes for “healthcare” that is null and void if we cross the state line. And, now that we are attempting to use the policy that is pushing us into poverty, we are flush with competing stories about the costs but remain empty of even the most basic answer to the simplest of questions.

In the meantime, Senegal is doing a better job testing and protecting its citizens. The farce: our stubborn insistence that this sham of a system, the most expensive yet least effective, is the best in the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SAGA

 

 

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Take A Number

652. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

“A person without a story does not exist.” Shekhar Kapur

Recently, I had to deliver a tax document to the IRS building downtown. Over a year ago I received a letter saying, “Congratulations, you’ve been randomly selected for a special educational audit….” I turns out that it was not a helpful educational audit in store for me but a year of medieval torture. My personal IRS agent has been trying to break me on the wheel. He is new to his job and has something to prove. His investigation is proving fruitless – which has only served to drive him into an income tax fervor, a numbers induced fanaticism – he’s redoubled his efforts, turning over figures, dumping columns, reaching back into my infancy to find anything to justify his time. And through it all I have, despite the stated intention of the audit, remained fairly uneducated and am now distinctly ungrateful for my random selection.

Luckily for me I have an accountant with a sense of humor. She represented me in all of his demands so I’d not met my inquisitor. She told me, “I’ve been doing this for a long time but never met anyone so singly dedicated to a lost cause.” And then she said, “He’s just cold. I think he’s angry about his life and is taking it out on you.” After 12 months – a full year of rooting through my documents, issuing threats, fines, fines revoked, re-requests, forms and re-forms 1120s, 4828, 2848, 6525a, I decided it was time to meet him. He sent a letter demanding that I deliver an original document, the scan that he initially requested was not good enough so he wanted the original and gave me 24 hours to comply (he sent his request via US Mail and I received it 4 days after his deadline). His request for the original was my opportunity to meet this very cold man.

When I first passed through the metal detectors a security guard told me to start my quest on the 34th floor. Exiting the elevator I came to a desk with a “take a number” machine. No human was in sight so I took a number. I realized at that moment that I’d left normal reality and was in Dante’s Inferno. This was the first level of hell. My number flashed on a screen and I was directed to find cubicle 8. Walking down a row of empty cubicles (there were rows of empty cubicles) I came at last to a person imprisoned behind a glass partition. She would not look at me and instructed me to go to the 16th floor. I was descending to the next level. Where was my Virgil?

On the 16th floor, although there were long corridors, I found 3 wall phones next to a locked door. There were no signs. There was not another human. Picking up a phone a person came on the line, listened to my quest and advised me to pick up another phone. My second choice of phone proved no different so I finally found a person through phone number 3 who told me to go to the 24th floor. (note: I am not making this up). On the 24th floor I found an identical set of phones and a single locked door. I looked around to see if I was on Candid Camera; how could I be sure that I’d traveled to another floor? What if this was Ellen DeGeneres’s idea of a joke and I was on live TV and the studio audience was howling at my incredulity? Or, perhaps I’d been hit by a bus and died and this was my version of Sisyphus. It only took two phones to find my tax man. A monotone voice told me that he’d be out in a moment. I made sure there was no food in my teeth – just in case Ellen came around the corner to say, “Isn’t this funny?”

My special agent came timidly out the door. He was very young – someone’s little brother, a son. He was not yet a man and he was shaking. I suddenly realized that he was afraid of me, afraid that I’d yell at him or perhaps hurt him. I knew in that moment that he knew that his audit was unreasonable and mean-spirited. He’d hoped that he’d never have to meet me. The moment was awful for him; filled with shame. I was seeing the Oz behind the curtain and he hated having to reveal himself. He was playing a power-over game with me because he had no real power in his life. I saw it and so did he. I held out my hand and said quietly that I thought it was time that I met him and handed him the original document. As Ann Quinn taught me, I killed him with kindness. Like his counterpart in the cubicle on floor 34, he was unable to look at me. He took the piece of paper and, visibly relieved, he disappeared again behind the door. “I am not in hell,” I thought, “…this man is. This man must come here everyday.”

As I left the building, returning to the land of light and humanity, I felt sick at the system that requires a young man to be a bully in order to feel powerful. His shame was palpable and I am certain I will be hammered because I saw his truth. As a nation we are asking ourselves serious questions about what caused such a horrific act of violence at an elementary school. We look for causes instead of the daily rituals that leave a soul so empty and frustrated that he must flame out of existence and take others with him as the only act of meaning that he can imagine. It is a failure of imagination; life in an empty story. Our rituals have descended to the level of collecting stuff and there is no substance or support to be found there. The daily rituals of our lives are meant to open us to the greater identification with deep meaning and sacred connectivity – with each other and our world. Our daily rituals are meant to bring us to the recognition of the enormity of being alive. I turned back and looked at this building and mourned for the people that must take their hearts from their bodies to go to work everyday; we are a tribe that only pretends to have a story. My heart broke for the young tax man who so early in life has made the choice to not exist.