Perry Care

I like to sit on our front porch in the morning, as it is a chance to enjoy the sort-of-cool breeze that blows up before the sun gets down to doing its August work.

Normally, I will light a candle that has an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on it (“unscented”), and then think for a while about the people that I care about.

One of the great things about this daily ritual was that I would often find my next-door neighbor Maria sitting on her own porch, watching the morning come up and having her own quiet thoughts. I would wave hello to her, and she would smile and wave back.

We didn’t speak; just shared the silence, a very nice thing to do with a neighbor in the early morning hours.

I still light the candle and I still greet the day, but Maria is no longer there to receive a good morning nod and smile. She died two weeks’ ago, and now her porch chair sits alone, as do the many children and grandchildren she left behind.

Maria was a young 64 year old who died quite suddenly: she found out only two weeks before her passing that she had had a cancer that would kill her.

Maria had not been feeling well for some time, but she was a widow on a limited income and she had learned to avoid doctors and the expenses of  medicine as much as possible. A strong woman who knew how to manage a large household, Maria must have learned how to put up with the pain and the uneasiness that a tumor in one’s belly would cause.

Maria did, finally, go to her doctor, who after a brief exam said that yes, it appeared that Maria had a tumor, and that if and when Maria managed to come up with some insurance or some cash, perhaps, perhaps this doctor (Maria’s doctor) might be able to make a referral for her.

Not treat her; just do a referral for her.

Maria returned home after this humiliation, of having her life reduced to a bit of cash or insurance. She remained bound and determined not to go to the emergency room, not wanting her family to incur a debt. In the end, however, the pain overwhelmed her and her family did take her to the emergency room. The emergency room personnel then referred Maria to the Intensive Care Unit, where she survived a few more days, before going to be with God in a new way.


Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, recently came to the humble conclusion that God wishes him to run for president. Amongst the credentials that he cites is something that he calls “Perry-Care.”  The guiding concept behind the governor’s health care plan is to place complete trust in  “market-based strategies of transparency, choice and competition.” “Market-based strategies of transparency” is window-dressing for corporate greed, the  “choice” would only be available to the insured and the wealthy, and the “competition” he mentions seems to be that race to the bottom that the state of Texas, under his governance, is actively engaged in.

The governor’s ideas on health care are empty of meaningful substance. The pandering to corporate greed is apparent to many of us who live here, we who have seen the effects of this Perry-Care–early deaths for the uninsured, the humiliation of the poor, and the great waste of the enormous human potential that lies within the extraordinary communities that survive in spite of the institutionalized meanness that lives on in this state.

Maria’s sense of health care would be quite different than Mr. Perry’s. She so wanted to live a long life—she still had so many things to tend to with her family. But first and foremost, she was determined not to be a burden to her family. Maria did lose her life, but at the end, she remained faithful to her families’ legacy of strength in the face of struggle, and unselfish goodness in times of need.

Tomorrow morning, the sun will rise again in Texas. Rick Perry will again, loudly I am sure, refine his plans for his run to the White House.

And at least one very empty chair on a small porch in the south of Texas will respect, again, the quiet of the morning.

A Lack of Reverse

The view from the second floor conference room of the South Padre Island Birding Center is spectacular. The horizon fills the west-facing windows; the distant shoreline runs from north to south and serves to anchor your soul, lest it fly right away.
Last week, twenty leaders from a host of the community-based organizations that form the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network had gathered to spend a day sharing the stories of our collective pursuits of justice for all. 
One veteran of these struggles spoke about the time he went with a client to pick up papers from the local police department. She was a victim of domestic violence, and was trying to take advantage of the Violence Against Women Act, a law that Congress passed in 1994 and which offers the possibility of licit immigration status to those undocumented women (and men) who suffer abuse at the hands of their “legal” spouses.
As the woman pulled into the parking lot of the police department, she went through a complicated maneuver trying to park the car. “What’s wrong?” the human rights’ activist asked her. She smiled as she gently fronted the car into a space at the edge of the parking lot, “I lost the reverse to the car.  It will only go forward. So I have to find a space that allows me to go forward when I am ready to leave.”
After finishing business with the police, they headed to the courthouse. Here, however, the parking situation was too complicated. She finally pulled into a space, put the car into park, and shut off the engine. Noting this, the man commented, “I thought that you said that the car had no reverse?”  
“It doesn’t,” she said, “so when we get done, I will be the reverse—I just put the car in neutral and  push it on out. Works like a charm!”
As she walked up the sidewalk toward the courthouse, he remained in the car, admiring this woman who had once been trapped in that very narrow coffin of physical and emotional abuse by a spouse and who was now unbothered by something as minor as the lack of a reverse gear in her car. 
Our companion finished his tale, took a sip of coffee, and said, “Amazing,” and then sat quietly.
I glanced out the window and watched as a lone seabird rose up and up and up into the light of the late afternoon, another one of God’s creatures profoundly, happily, unbothered by the lack of  reverse.