My daughter celebrated her first Christmas today. She doesn’t know from presents or Santa or Christmas trees just yet. She likes the lights, and the wrapping paper, and a good nap after a bottle, just like her father. She likes, in other words, the simple stuff of the season because she doesn’t know any better. The wild-eyed child-greed of “I WANT” spawned by toy commercials is still a ways off, because she doesn’t know from television, thank God.
She doesn’t know about Congress yet, either, and I envy her that. A few short hours from now, unemployment benefits for more than a million people will expire because Congress could not be bothered to renew them, because helping the neediest among us is no longer the Christian thing to do in the brave new world of 21st century America.
Charlie Pierce, as usual, said it best: “This decision was consciously taken by a Congress so soaked in electorally convenient religiosity that its members believe that people — other people, naturally, and their children — will be strengthened in their moral character by completely avoidable deprivation. That the mothers and fathers out there, avoiding the gazes of their children because of the simple expectations there that they cannot meet, will be better, stronger, and moral people for the pain that causes them to look away as the lights on the tree begin to blur with their tears.”
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I could spend these column inches talking about the carnival of overt cruelty that Congress has become in the name of Jesus, or something. I could talk about a president who speaks with sky-splitting eloquence about the gap between rich and poor in America, even as he actively seeks fast-track authority to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade “deal” that will turn that gap between rich and poor into a yawning chasm. I could talk about a president who speaks so well on environmental issues while trembling on the verge of approving the Keystone XL pipeline, a border-to-border time bomb filled with the worst of the worst the petroleum industry has to offer.
I could speak of a government divorced from the people it supposedly exists to serve, of skyrocketing poverty and joblessness and homelessness, of food banks overwhelmed by need, of veterans and old people used as bargaining chips, of children born in the last five years who have never known Christmas at all because Christmas ceased to exist in all but name after their families were financially obliterated. I could speak of other families awash in money, the titans of Wall Street and the banking industry, for whom those “Buy a luxury car for Christmas” commercials are made. They will eat well, thanks to the money they stole, but because they are too big to fail, and because they own Congress, they remain untouched by the law for the serial crimes they have committed, and continue to commit.
Because there must be hope, because I will always try to find hope, because there is always reason for hope, I choose instead to write about Laney Brown of West Reading, Pennsylvania. Seven months ago, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. All options for her recovery were exhausted. The term of her life was measured in days.
Recently, she told her family that her last Christmas wish was to hear carolers at her door. By way of social media and the local news, her family put the word out about Laney’s last wish. On Friday night, a few people arrived outside her door, and then a few more, and then a few hundred, and then a few thousand, until finally some ten thousand people stood shoulder to shoulder on Chestnut Street in West Reading and sang to Laney.
Laney Brown passed away early this morning with her family at her side. But on Friday night, she heard the carolers. She heard them all.
Laney Brown could be my daughter, or yours. We are all our brother’s and sister’s keeper, and so Laney Brown belongs to each and every one of us. That so many people came out to give her comfort, to grant her wish, and to comfort her family in this darkest of hours, is proof positive to me that far more people believe that than don’t.
And that is why, despite all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, despite all the greed and malice and deliberately-inflicted deprivation that takes place as a matter of public policy and “responsibility,” despite the grotesque perversion of simple morality that has so gruesomely twisted the fabric of life in America, we will someday prevail, and find a better way, and make a better place.
There are more of us than them. We are better than that, and Friday night on Chestnut Street hammered that truth home for all time.
Goodbye, Laney. I also sing to you.