This week I had the misfortune of dealing with the healthcare system, education system, and banking systems of the United States of America, all in one day. And not one of those dealings went well. I ended the day realizing I live in a huge system where I mean exactly nothing.
I think we all realize this with the healthcare system. I’ve always had great doctors, but the doctor is the tiniest part of the system. As a diabetic who wears two medical devices, I deal with insurance and bureaucracy on a daily basis. I know what it’s like to sit on hold for an hour to speak with a human being. I know what it’s like to rush to an appointment fifteen minutes early to fill out paperwork and then sit in an office alone in paper clothes for forty-five minutes to be seen. I’ve been in the hospital, where I am nothing but a chart on the other side of a door making work for harried staff.
We are moving, and this week was our closing date. Being homeless for a month with no permanent address and no printer, we had a horrible time getting all the paperwork for our loan officer, but I did it. I was so proud of myself when I turned in that final page with a couple days to spare. What I didn’t know was that I would be receiving one last email, and it would come six hours before an important deadline. I didn’t know that email would come after my husband was at work, and while he’s at work he can’t communicate with the outside world. I had told my loan officer a dozen times that we had to do our dealings before four pm, but that didn’t matter. The system doesn’t cater to second shift. It doesn’t cater to people who take more than six hours at a time away from their email. We missed the deadline, and our closing date changed. It doesn’t matter to the loan people. They’ll still get paid. Because of the change we will live in our house for a week before our belongings can be moved, but that doesn’t matter to the bank. Why would it? We’re just money to them. We mean nothing.
Finally, I registered my son for his SAT test. He’s sixteen, but he hasn’t gotten his driver’s permit yet. And because he’s home schooled, he doesn’t have a student ID. I should have thought about that, because I sat through the forty minutes of prying questions to register him, paid my money, and then realized he doesn’t have an appropriate photo ID. I can’t access the paperwork to get an ID for another week because I messed up our house closing and we can’t see our belongings for a while. I don’t know if I will be able to get it in time, and if I don’t, it will cost me money to change the test dates. Nobody in the department of education cares about this. He means nothing to them.
All of this because we don’t quite fit the molds. No ID, wrong schedules, internet behavior that isn’t the norm, illness… In America, it pays to look like everyone else, but nobody looks just like everyone else. We all know it. Our interactions on a daily basis are cold, impersonal, ‘fair’, and broken. We don’t matter.
Enter Jesus. I’m reading the Gospels right now, and it struck me this week that Jesus was weird. He could have entered a town and waved his hand over it, healing everyone. It would have been efficient and fair. He could have required everyone to show up with an ID, at a set time, and fill out paperwork to prove they were worthy to be healed of illness. He could have limited his healing to certain deadly diseases, thus allowing him to save more people.
But what did he do? He walked among the people. He spoke with them, building rapport. He touched them, and according to the law, some of them weren’t to be touched. Some of them hadn’t been touched in ages, because the system said they weren’t worthy. They didn’t fit the mold. He didn’t blanket heal a whole group. Instead, it was always individual, all the time. Each person got to look into his eyes. Each person knew he mattered to this prophet. And everyone he touched was changed. Some he told to be quiet, but how impossible was that? They walked up to him broken, faceless, hopeless. They didn’t matter and had no hope of ever mattering. And the rabbi stopped, took time with them, touched them, treated them like individuals, and healed them.
I am always going to live in the shadows. Every day I will interact with a society that doesn’t value me. But I can be careful not to let that harden me. I can care about individual people. Once a month I help feed people, and I can smile when I fill coffee cups. I can make sure my hand brushes another hand when I take the cup or set down the plate, offering harmless human touch to souls that never feel human touch. I can look someone in the eye and speak words meant just for that person, words acknowledging that none of us fit in this system.
In a cold, fractured, faceless society, it isn’t that hard to remind a person that he or she is allowed to be different, allowed to have thoughts and feelings and emotions and needs. So often we move through our days alone and isolated, so even the tiniest bit of care and tenderness speaks volumes. And I need to remember to do that. I want to be bitter. This week I was reminded that equality and fairness really mean being treated like we’re not human. But God never does that. Jesus never did that. The Holy Spirit has to prompt us because each interaction we have is with an individual, a special creature made by a special God, one with his or her own flaws, likes, joys, tears, and it is a privilege to deal with individuals and learn about their complexities.
I hope I can do better at that. Right now I want to leave the continent and never come back. I’m weary. I’m about to live in an empty house for a week, and those that made it happen don’t care and will never apologize. I feel like I’m at the mercy of a giant monstrous machine, and I can’t ever get out from under it. And all around me people feel the same. So it’s time to reach out and touch them and remind them that someone sees them, someone understands. In a way, loving people as Jesus has never been easier, because we live in a society where we’re all starved for it.