Lent / Tarot / Completion: The Eight of Wands
I am observing Lent this year by drawing, at random, one tarot card per day, and writing a quick, stream-of-consciousness reaction to the card, in the relation to Lent. I'm not editing these quick blogs.
This is a high-wire act. I have no idea what card I'll draw. There is no way to prepare. What if I draw a card that sparks no Lent-related reflections? Also, I hate not being able to edit.
So far, though, I've managed to keep to my Lenten vow.
This morning was different.
I drew the eight of wands, a card that signals completion. The obvious Lenten connection is Jesus' death on the cross. "It is finished," he says, and those three words have inspired volumes of theological commentary.
I began thinking about a blog post related to this topic and my mind rebelled.
Oh, great, we are only ten days into Lent and you are already derelict in your Lenten vow! Oh, you with your attention deficit disorder!
No. I want to write about endings, and Lent, but I want to write this.
I had a bad night. I had nightmares. I kept oscillating between a troubled consciousness, when I was awake just for the seconds necessary to tell myself that the hellish visions flashing before my eyes were merely illusory, and a fetid sleep that offered no rest but mere torment.
I was worried for myself. I was worried for people I care about. I saw my sister alive, and sick again. I saw my brother Mike, who also died of cancer, as his wife worried about paying hospital bills. The insurance company figured out a way to let the young widow down. We all chipped in. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in those days. I sent her money from my meager allowance.
I was struggling. Struggling to reach out from the oppression of poverty and disease and helplessness. It was as if I had no arms. As if air were iron. As if darkness were eternal. As if I were the only thinking, feeling being in a universe of strange, frigid death. Me, forever, alone alone alone, except for the ghosts of my siblings who died of cancer, whose loved ones had to worry about money as they died. In this universe, the only possible story that could ever be told was this: you worked, your life broke, you lost everything before you lost your life.
I don't generally have nightmares. Why did I have such hideous nightmares last night?
President Donald Trump vowed to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Congressman Paul Ryan has proposed a Republican replacement. The Republican replacement will damage people who fit a certain demographic, that is, people who have not had children, who are old, and sick, and poor.
I am in that demographic. I never had children. I am old. I am chronically ill. I am poor.
To usher in what fellow blogger Otto Gross has taken to calling "DonTCare," Republican talking heads are all over the media. They are justifying DonTCare's targeting of the old, sick, alone and poor. They are saying that we are lazy … that we spend money foolishly … that we do not contribute to society … so we deserve to die. We are what the Nazis used to call "life unworthy of life," aka "useless eaters."
It's funny. Team Trump does care very much about human life. As long as that human life is a fetus gestating within the abdomen of a woman who does not want to gestate a fetus. That human life deserves to live. Team Trump gets so tender, so sentimental, so warm, so adamant, about the value of that life. Once that fetus grows into a baby and is born, it loses any ability to arouse concern in the previously humanitarian hearts of Team Trump.
Being poor, old, sick and alone is like having cold water splashed in your face about ten times a day. You don't get to take many vacations from reality. You see a package of unopened food on the sidewalk outside the store; your first thoughts are about safety. A rushing shopper dropped it. How long ago? Is it a hot day? Is the package distended? In such a way as to indicate that the contents have begun to rot and give off bacterial gases? No? Will anybody see me bend over and pick this up? Nah. Nobody will see me. The old and the poor are invisible. Hunger and poverty sharpen awareness.
So, yeah, I've long had to wrestle with others' assessment of my worth.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, without health insurance, before the Affordable Care Act, hospital administrators looked me right in the face and told me, "Wish I could help. Can't. Yes, I know it's a scandal. People like you walk through these doors every day. Breaks my heart … "
Robin took it upon herself to stay by my side until we could find someone who would perform the necessary surgery. I gave up. She would not let me. We went from door to door. We endured rejection after rejection.
It was late Friday afternoon, at the end of two weeks. I can see the two of us seated in the little office in the hospital miles away, in a different county. I can see the late afternoon sun out the window. I can see all the little knickknacks scattered around the administrator's computer.
This particular hospital administrator was Latina. She spoke English with an accent. She made the kind of errors that a native Spanish speaker makes in English. I know. I am a teacher, after all. I am a child of immigrants who spoke English as a second language. I live in a majority-minority city. Ask me how many times I've explained, in a classroom or in a living room, the difference between "a cat" and "the cat."
As it turns out, I had the same kind of cancer that this Latina administrator's beloved abuela had had.
A magic wand was produced. It was waved. And I got the surgery I needed. My prognosis is good.
You remember the happy ending of this story. I remember how I felt during the preceding two weeks. I was in that universe that is always cold and always dark and that does not want me to survive where I survive not thanks to kindness or civilization but through struggle.
I started working at age 14. I worked through a BA, an MA, and a PhD. I worked as a nurse's aide, a landscaper, a live-in domestic servant, a carpenter, an exam grader, and a tutor. I finished my PhD without a dime in student loans left unpaid. I work now. Team Trump tells you I am poor because I am lazy.
Team Trump tells you I am poor because I buy too many expensive phones. Jason Chaffetz, I don't have an iPhone. I don't have a TV. I don't have heat in winter or air conditioning in summer.
There was a factory in my hometown. I don't know what they made there. I know the men came home from work looking like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz. They were covered, from head to foot, faces and hands, in some shiny, silver-toned, metallic substance.
My brother Mike worked there.
When he was diagnosed, he was studying to be a minister. The insurance company didn't come through. Probably because he was lazy. Probably because he bought too many expensive things for him, his wife, and their two kids, in their one-bedroom campus apartment.
But, you say, why take money from hard working people and redistribute it to the poor?
Indeed. Why do you propose to take my tax money and give it to protect Melania and Barron Trump because they don't feel like living in DC? Why do my tax dollars protect Trump Jr when he takes a business trip to Uruguay? Why will my tax dollars pay for Trump's wall, his asinine monument to the ignorant xenophobia of his followers?
I've ranted enough.
This is Lent. I'll let Jesus have the last word.
"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames. '
Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.
'He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.
'But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.'
He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. 'Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"