A Few Thoughts About Family

IMG_7154.JPGLast weekend my Uncle Jeff died after many years of illness. We have a large extended family that is both financially comfortable and only slightly dysfunctional. Most members of the family live within a two-hour driving radius of the nursing home where Jeff spent his last year and his final days. Jeff was a member of society for whom family played a traditional role – someone in the family always made sure he was safe, as happy as possible, and well-cared for. Family visited Jeff several times a week and kept vigil as he died.

During that same week, the GOP proposed a budget that would cut funding for free school meals, and funding for Meals on Wheels, a program in which volunteers deliver meals to seniors who live at home. The cuts to school lunches were justified by saying that feeding children is not proven to raise their grades. Cuts to Meals on Wheels were justified by claims that the program does not show results. Merely feeding the hungry is not result enough in Trump’s America.

In my experience, Republicans like the idea that family takes care of family. The Republicans of my acquaintance are far from stingy. They have been very generous and kind with their family members, friends, schools, and churches (institutions that serve as a kind of ‘found family’ for many). However, Republicans do not like giving to those they consider to be outsiders – people from other countries, or people of other religious faiths, or people of different sexual orientations, or people they simply don’t know.In the Republican mindset, families should be empowered to take care of their own members.

Jeff’s caregivers told us that they were pleased to see how often his family members visited him. They told us that many of their patients don’t have this kind of family support. The idea that family (of blood or of choice) is responsible for caring for society’s most vulnerable members ignores the existence of vast numbers of people in our towns, our states, our countries, and our planet who do not have family at all or who do not have family with the resources needed to take care of them.

If our nation is to survive, it will have to expand its idea of what family means. Are not all of our residents family? Are we really willing to let seniors and children go hungry because they aren’t related to us, or they don’t go to our church, or their grades aren’t high? Are we really going to say that because we are healthy the illnesses of others are not our problem?

Families are a social construct by which we support each other on a small scale. Governments are (or ought to be) a social construct in which we pool our resources to care for each other on a large scale. If you drive on a public road, or drink clean water, or use a flush toilet, and you live in America, then you have participated in this system. If a nation is not a family, then what is it for? And if a government does not assist the most fragile members of its family, then why support it? In the words of the famous song by Katherine Lee Bates:

“America, America, God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with Brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”


3 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts About Family

  1. JF Owen says:

    I’d like to begin by offering my heart felt condolences on your family’s loss. In any family the loss of a member is difficult; in a tight knit family, the loss is devastating.

    I completely agree with your thoughts on the need to be inclusive in our definition of family and the need to assist that family to whatever extent is needed. But, I think perhaps that the brush with which you paint Republicans is a bit broad. Like any group, political or otherwise, Republicans have a spectrum of beliefs.

    I am a Republican and have been for over forty years. I, like a large number of my political brothers and sisters, am more moderate than the right wing fringe of my party. Because of that, I occasionally find myself voting for someone outside my party if I think that they are the best candidate. My beliefs are relatively simple. Government should do what it has do to govern and should interfere with its citizen’s lives only to the extent that it is minimally necessary. I also have a fairly inclusive concept of who deserves government, and by extension my, help. I don’t exclude anyone in legitimate need based on faith, race, sexuality, country of origin or any other arbitrary label or stereotype.

    With regards to social programs like Meals on Wheels or free school lunches, I support them. But, I also believe that the role of government is to fill in the gaps. Individuals and families should do what they can first and government programs should be in place to support them if there is a shortfall. I believe that concept should extend to all social needs, including health care. No one should have to forgo a trip to the doctor or filling a prescription because they can’t afford medical insurance or don’t have the money to pay the deductible. Would it surprise you to know that over 40% of Republicans think that we should have a Canadian style universal health care system that covers everybody? I fall into that category.

    There are a hundred other examples I could give which illustrate that there is a wide range of Republican beliefs just as there are a wide range of Democratic beliefs. We are not all cast with the same mold. In my experience, there is a very thin line that differentiates between a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat. The polarization that has happened over the past few years and the unbelievable acceleration of that polarization in the past year has seemingly buried that fact. That’s a shame.

    I can remember a time when political parties acted as a check and balance on each other and progress came from vigorous, thoughtful, debate and compromise. Our politicians and our fellow citizens really need to rediscover that talent.

    Again, my condolences on your loss.

  2. CarrieS says:

    Thank you so much for your well-thought out comment! See, Internet, people CAN have polite political discourse online. I agree that the concept of the Moderate (on both sides) has been lost in the mayhem of the last few years and the election cycle in particular. Thank you for this reminder that there are still moderates out there. We may disagree on specific points of policy, but at least we speak the same language, metaphorically speaking, whereas so much political conversation today consists of people talking past each other.

  3. Carolyn Hill says:

    I am sorry for your loss, Carrie. And I am grateful for your thoughts on family.

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