As political leaders play their games on television and over other media, I pull back and worry. I worry about my siblings and myself, and our fifty-fifty chance of inheriting the mutated gene that causes Huntington’s disease. Our genetic code may switch on soon, and our cognitive and emotional well-being becomes endangered. This disease will compromise our ability to work, drive, or walk, think and talk. Both my sister and I retired from education within the last couple of years, and so we have small retirement incomes. Both of us have husbands who earn their own incomes.
My brother stands alone.
So as the political pandering continues, I feel angry and frustrated by the portrayal of low income people as not having good character. The words “lazy” and “irresponsible” keep being thrown around with imperial disregard to the life events that lead someone into a low paying, “dead end” occupation.
My brother has learning disabilities. He attended school at a time when our educational system could identify learning differences, but our teachers didn’t know how to address these problems. I remember spending hour after hour each evening and on the weekends drilling my brother on letter sounds, basic phonics, and sight words. He learned to read because he has a remarkable memory. Eventually, we discovered that his visual disability actually distorted letters and shapes. His eyes perceived images, but his brain processed what he saw into contorted versions. My brother’s school struggles led him to want to work with other children who faced problems. He attended a junior college to study Early Childhood Development, received certification to work with young children, and became a teacher for Head Start.
His low salary at Head Start meant that he eventually left the work he loved and took a job as a custodian, first with a school district and later with a local hospital. He felt comfortable with this highly physical and repetitious work. Over the years, I’ve watched my brother work harder than anyone I know. He volunteers to work holidays, does extra shifts if someone call in sick, and stays through hurricanes to be the first to clean up after storm damage. My brother’s always works forty hours a week, or more. His income stays under $18,000 a year. He represents the working poor in this country.
My brother lives a modest life. He budgets every penny to break even each month. He has no cell phone. During the last hurricane, we had to call the local police and beg that someone drive by his home to make certain of his safety. My brother doesn’t own a computer, and he obviously doesn’t have internet. This year his vacation consisted of staying at home and going to see two new releases at his local movie theatre. He has no IRA, or a pension plan from his employer. Even if his income allowed it, his learning disabilities make it difficult for him to understand the financial nuances required to make retirement decisions.
If my brother carries the Huntington’s disease gene, he eventually will depend upon governmental programs—for everything. I cannot be my brother’s keeper. My own finances won’t stretch enough to cover his entire salary if HD forces him out of work. My sister cannot be my brother’s keeper. She and her husband’s retirement incomes won’t bare the weight of a second household.
When I hear and see mindless people thoughtlessly and cruelly making judgments about those who have less, anger floods through me. These heartless people, who often have so much, don’t want to understand that Life isn’t fair, and so we must have social structures, provided by our government, to care for those who cannot care for themselves. I don’t mind that some people manage to manipulate the “system” and get more than they “deserve” because that won’t be the case with my brother, or my sister, or even myself if we succumb to Huntington’s downward spiral.
I am not a statistic.
My sister is not a statistic.
My brother is not a statistic.
So when I cast my vote in November, I’ll select the politicians that err on the side of humanity.
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman