From “A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion” by Mark Feldmeir
Axiom #2: “Good health is a crown on the head of a well person that only a sick person can see,” and illness is a cross borne by the unsuspecting.
Rarely do we acknowledge the undeserved blessing of good health. Rarely do we anticipate illness when it falls on us. Rarely do we pause to consider what it is like for those who fall ill. Health is a privilege that goes unnoticed until it is lost to us.
To grow old is a gift. To grow old means that we have somehow, so far, avoided the cruel bandits on the road to Jericho. Some people do not get this far. My own father, at age 48, was overcome by those bandits. One day he wore the crown of health and the next, he bore the cross of terminal illness.
Whenever Jesus looked upon someone bearing that cross, the gospels describe his response with the word “splagchnizomai.” It means “compassion.” But the verb form comes from the noun “splanzna,” meaning bowels, or gut. In the ancient world, it was the gut, not the heart, that was perceived as the center of human emotion. To have compassion, (“splagchnizomai”) is to feel something so deep in your gut that you are moved to action.
In her early 30s, Kate Bowler was a wife, a new mother, and a professor at Duke Divinity School. Then she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and given only months to live. Experimental immunotherapy has kept her alive. In her book, Everything Happens for a Reason, she says,
I don’t know how to explain it…It’s like we’re all floating on the ocean, holding on to our own inner tubes. We’re all floating around, but people don’t seem to know that we’re all sinking. Some are sinking faster than others, but we’re all sinking…” I keep having the same unkind thought – I am preparing for death and everyone else is on Instagram. I know…that life is hard for everyone…but I sometimes feel like I’m the only one in the world who is dying.
When the cost of her therapy reached several hundred thousand dollars, her community of friends and advocates stepped in to help – Splagchnizomai. Like the Samaritan neighbor, they were moved by compassion to keep her alive.
But there are 28 millions uninsured American citizens, and an estimated 14 million immigrants in the U.S. who are not as fortunate, and we might ask whether our failure to create a program to insure all Americans is due to a lack of imagination, a lack of compassion, or a combination of both. “It’s like we’re all floating on the ocean, holding on to our own inner tubes,” says Bowler. Under our current system, there seem to be only so many inner tubes to go around – and that’s a moral issue.