Owen Meany – Lessons for Us All

I just finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. This book was first published in 1989, and I am not sure why it has taken so long for me to get to it. I read The World According to Garp several times back in the day, as well as The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Son of the Circus, and A Widow for One Year. How did I miss the best of the lot? (I admit that I have read none of Mr Irving’s more recent works – 1999 being the “newest” on my list of Reads.)

Well, at least now I have read it and can report that it is worth every minute. There are a multitude of reviews and re-tellings of the plot on line, so I will not bother with that. What is amazing to me is how the 50’s and 60’s are so finely evoked in this tale of faith. Not to mention the narrator’s sharp tongue on all things Reagan and conservative. Obviously, this is my kind of story! For anyone too young to have endured the anti-war / pro-war war that raged in America during the Vietnam fiasco, I strongly recommend this book. And, for those who are too young to remember the Iran-Contra fiasco, this is a nice refresher course in how American politics waltzed into the Land of Absurdity from which it has never returned.

But probably the real reason to read Meany is to explore the world of Faith and what it means in our culture. Certainly, we hear this word every day in America. God is another word we hear all too often coming at us as a justification for just about anything. Irving’s presentation of faith and god are more in line with what even an agnostic can understand. Of course, the precept that the lead character has seen his date of death and knows that it is his fate, are not common to most people’s experience. But we are dealing with an Irving novel, lest we forget, and strange things are always the norm.

After sleeping on this, I feel that Irving is asking his reader to do some serious thinking about what constitutes a miracle in a world without faith. I, for one, do not believe in miracles, for I have no faith in such phenom. Of course, I am not alone in this regard. However, there are many among us who are willing, if not eager, to see miracles where there are none. Then, I have to ask myself, would the god of my understanding really create a life, a strange and idiosyncratic life at that, to save 7 small Vietnamese orphans? If he would do that, why would he let us have a war there in the first place. Seems a lot of trouble to go through to not fix what was severely broken in the world. And, it certainly could not have been for the additional bonus of bringing the narrator to “find” his faith and start going to church. That seems like over kill to me. But then, I am a Skeptic of the first order.

And, above all else, in Owen Meany, one finds the funniest of all Irving’s characters. It is his forthrightness that makes him so. I found myself laughing out loud countless times throughout this novel and in tears at the end – tears for Owen and for me – there was no more to read!

The Age of Medicare

Last week I visited with my contact at the Social Security Administration. All very nice, as long as you follow the script. But, no sense of humor. The young woman I met with was very polite and intent on doing her job as defined in some obscure employee manual. She was most concerned that I understood that not telling her the truth was a federal crime. She explained that point to me three times: at the outset of the appointment, just prior to starting her set of standard questions and then again at the end of the interview. I hope I told the truth at all times. Being almost 65 makes my ability to remember all facts slightly suspect. I came armed with proof of my birth. (Certificate of Live Birth, being suspect these days, I was a little worried about that. Needlessly, as it turned out.) I also brought my marriage certificate, my Social Security Card and my latest statement from the SSA itself. But, all she really required was my drivers license! She did deign to review my birth certificate because I gave it to her in response to her questions about my place of birth. But as she reviewed that document, she still had to ask me what city I was born in as if to test my ability to read my own history.

The most amazing thing was the fact that the government knows more about me than I can remember: when I worked and did not work, my ex-husband’s retirement status, my own status, dates I married and divorced, and so forth. I was amazed. Whoever says their life is not an open book, has not sat down with a SSA agent recently!

I declined to “file a claim” for SSI as I am still working and do not have a retirement date in mind. I was interested in enrolling in Medicare however as my own health care provider is intent on moving over to the single payer provider it seems. That is so that they can get my high-risk aged self off their books and then offer me the “supplemental” health care where the government takes the major risk and they come along for the ride and collect their pound of flesh. Ah, well. I decided to enroll in Parts A and B. I then found out I have to find my own carrier for Part D as it is optional and is not managed by Medicare itself.

As luck would have it, when I returned home, the USPS had delivered a package from our health care broker (yes, everyone gets a little piece of that medical care premium you pay every month.) which weighed in at least 2 pounds! I have not yet found the courage or time to plow through that bundle page by page. However, I did see immediately, that for some obscure reason Blue Shield does not offer Medicare Part D in the region in which I reside! I will never understand all the mumbo-jumbo surrounding health care. I swear.

I will be contacting our agent for a more thorough explanation, of course. But it will not change the facts.

The thing is: how did I get so old as to qualify for single-payer health care in America?

Tightening the Belt

Here I sit, Sunday morning, enjoying the view from my kitchen table…

wpid-morningview-2009-08-9-09-16.jpg

And, I do mean ENJOYING. I would have to be an ingrate to not appreciate such a view.

But underneath all this comfort, all this security and warmth, there is an unease. This feeling is deep in the dark, lurking, smirking at me. Why am I being haunted? Is it the fact that I am looking at working until I am 70 instead of retiring at 66 as I had planned? Is it because my children are all struggling to keep financially afloat in perilous economic times? Is it because I see so much hatred expressed everyday in every way in the press, on website comment sections especially? I look at the coverage regarding health care reform and see the people most frightened by any change are people of my own age or more. They are scared of some bogey man coming in the night to euthanize them. I, on the other hand, am afraid of the people who are telling these lies and crippling any small chance we have of reform. I am afraid of the corporate oligarchs who are pulling the strings and making us all dance in varying degrees of frenzied craziness.

The fledgling bills in Congress are amorphous entities, not yet fully realized. And, if the lobbyists have their way, they will be aborted and thrown out before any chance of change is hinted at. All of the fear, all of the hatred, all of the ugly cries of fascism, hitler-comparisons, the strident screeching is designed to kill any attempt to change the health care industry in America. And, by the way, if it kills the ability of the Black President to govern, well, that would be an added benefit. (Despite the fact that contrary to his campaign promises, he appears to be as much in the pocket of the oligarchs as his predecessors.)

In the waning years of my life, all that I have worked for, all that I have dreamed would be my “golden years”, is turning out to be for naught. It is as if the bottom will open up and swallow all that I love and care about. We have had to cut back our salaries to keep from laying off staffers we need to have to provide service to our customers and stay in business. I have had to forego any thoughts of vacation or rest until we are out of the red. And lest, you think that is not so bad – it has been almost five years since my husband and I allowed ourselves any vacation time at all! According to economic prognosticators, the current estimates for recovery is 2013! (If we are lucky!)

So, what else can I do, but enjoy my own backyard. Try to focus on keeping my own small business afloat. Take a minute here or there to reflect on how fortunate our lives continue to be: our house is paid for, we have enough put by to maintain a loss position without closing the company for at least another year, our health is above average for our age group, we are on loving terms with our children, they are all healthy, we are not broke, and we do find lots to laugh about.

So, long story short: many many many people have a truly tough time in this world. We are NOT among them! And, for that I am exceedingly grateful.

Now, if I could only get rid of these recurring nightmares about China foreclosing on America!

Civil Discourse

I am trying to get my arms around this concept:

  • Health care costs are skyrocketing – our own company’s monthly premiums have increased 50% since 2005!
  • Millions of families are unable to afford any health insurance at all.
  • A former employee of ours who worked with us to support her way through nurses training, was given a $75,000 signing bonus when she was hired by Kaiser-Permanente! She is a capable and caring person, but was this a fair amount to pay for a “greenhorn” nurse? Now Kaiser is laying off thousands of support staff. How will that affect the quality of health care provided?
  • Nobel prize winning economists are predicting that premiums for companies will continue to escalate over the next decade to the point of being 50% of the employee’s income!
  • Americans with individual coverage (not through their employers) are being deprived of coverage when they fall ill or the insurance company executives refuse to change their rescission policies as demonstrated during the Congressional hearings. Those same executives receive millions annually in bonuses based on denial of coverage!
  • Meanwhile, Republican and conservative legislators act as if this is okay. They do not feel citizens are entitled to any guarantee of health care, or worse, feel that all Americans already enjoy health care by simply going to the emergency room when they need care! (The most expensive venue for providing medical treatment.) But what about preventive health care, the kind of care that saves lives AND money? They do not have access to that level of care, as they do not have insurance and cannot pay for physical exams and expensive diagnostic procedures. Even with my own health insurance, a colonoscopy costs me more than $700 co-pay! (We won’t go into the resultant punctured colon and emergency bowel resection required to clean up the mess.)
  • Town Hall meetings convened to discuss the health care issues are being disrupted and cancelled because some not-so-grassroots organizations do not want this problem to be talked about. In effect, they are attempting to shut down democracy.
  • And, the only thing the right is offering is something called “co-ops” instead of the public option. For more interesting information on the history of co-op health care, look here: The Blue Cross Story . Nothing new under the sun… Sounds like a bad idea to me.
  • Euthanasia, denial of health care, death camps even! These are the scary things being promulgated by the Fox media noise, astroturf organizers and health care providers’ PR firms. This last group all the while touting their willingness to reform their systems without government oversight and promises to the Administration they will work to bring down costs – no need for reform!

I tell you it is enough to make one’s head spin right off and spiral far off into the Andromeda galaxy! It is going to be a very long, hot August, you betcha.

So, then, conservative friends, where is a plan we can all live with? I have heard nothing from the Right, from Republicans, from Conservatives that resembles an answer to the question of how do we fix our health care crisis. Other than the aforementioned co-op plan. Does this mean, health care in America isn’t broken and does not need to be fixed?

You Betcha! (my goodness, that phrase is useful)

Up Side Down In Side Out?

Well now, isn’t this just the perfect pickle? Ms Taitz has magically been presented with a Kenyan birth certificate for our President. The certificate is stamped as being certified by the Republic of Kenya on February 17, 1964. However, the fact stands that the Republic of Kenya did not exist until December 12, 1964. Hmmmm. Discrepancy, anyone?

To what lengths will these people traverse? Of course, the source of this document cannot be revealed due to threats against the source’s life.

Kenya has never tried to scam anyone in America with documents purporting to be verifiable and legal. And, Hawaii’s state government is well-known for falsifying birth documents.

Is this an inverse reality show?