Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Non-Crisis Quarter-Life Crisis

I have fallen deep into the rabbit hole. Wedding photography, which I initially started as a way to exercise my creative interests (a serious hobby of sorts), has taken control of my hopes and aspirations. Not just the photography but the promise of a life focusing exclusively on and striving for my goals and ideals. As I have dug deeper into the community of photographers online I found story after story of people who have had success and have abandoned their cubicles. Not only have I been inspired artistically, but I have been inspired to question what I want to do with my life. Being able to invest more time into my family, my church, my community and myself by not having to clock in 40 hours a week is a dream almost too good to be true. And yet the dream tantalizes me.

These hopes are somewhat egged on by my current job. Don't get me wrong, I love engineering and the benefits of working at VDOT are very nice, but it is starting to wear me down. The biggest problem is that too much of my work life is determined by people who don't care about VDOT, namely the General Assembly and the candidates for governor, who would rather get reelected than solve any real problems. It is a real drag when projects you pour yourself into get cut because politicians can't get around to funding transportation. There are other factors too, but if I am working as a hydraulics engineer 20 years from now, I'm going to be disappointed with myself.

Last week I found another blog that has pushed me one step closer to the dream. The Art of Nonconformity by Chris Guillebeau shares his pursuit of his two goals: 1. To travel to every country in the world by age 35, and 2. To be a catalyst for the crusade against mediocrity and conventional beliefs. His A Brief Guide to World Domination (PDF) is a manifesto for our generation. What resonated the most from it was the idea that you don't have to choose between a life doing good for yourself and a life doing good for others, that you could, and should, do both equally well. At first glance this idea seems rather simple, but when I examine my life by that measure, I am doing mostly for myself with the idea that I will do more for others "later". He calls me out in the guide saying "[Putting it off is] a satisfying answer because it provides temporal relief. It's deceptive because it's not true..."

So where does that leave me? I know I want more from life and I want to give more of myself away. Unfortunately, the American Dream, 40-hours a week in a cubical doesn't seem to be headed that direction. My dream is definitely the path less taken, just sometimes it would be easier if I had a map of where it will lead.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sarala Starts Pre-K!

Sarala has been talking about going to school for almost a year now, and today was the big day. This morning she was full of energy with small moments of nervousness mixed in. As we walked up to the school and in through the front doors she was both shy and curious; pulling away from me but also hiding behind me at times. We found the cafeteria table where she was supposed to meet her class and Sarala started to find her groove. She showed her lunch box to her teacher and began pointing out everything inside. When the teacher formed a line to go to the class room, Sarala fell right in. There she stood with her oversized princess backpack, looking forward to her big day. With a wave and a smile, she said good bye to April and I.

What an amazing privileged it is to be a parent.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Problem with the Health Care Debate

One of the ideas that keeps coming up is that "socialized health care makes you wait forever for medical care." This seems to be the one of the most widely circulated attacks against health care reform and the "Public Option" and it has quickly become popular wisdom. Usually the speaker supports his or her claim with a terrible story of delayed medical care in Canada or Europe and they subtly imply that if that person was here everything would have been A-OK.

The problem is that it is a logical fallacy to compare the worse cases of socialized medicine with an idealized version of the American health care system. There are successes and failures in both systems and our national debate needs to acknowledge this. A very large majority of Canadians and Europeans receive good health care every time they need it. The proof is in the pudding: their life expectancy is longer and their infant mortality rates are lower. Conversely, there are Americans who are not being well served by our health care system. Just by chance, three friends have experienced the limitations of our system in just the past week and all of them have health insurance.

I'd like to share their stories with you. I am not trying to suggest that these cases would be perfect under a government run system, just that our system is not perfect and it needs improvement.

A teenager who is a friend of mine has been suffering from back pain since an accident at camp last summer. At the time of the accident he was diagnosed with a back sprain and told to take it easy. The pain did not completely go away and by this spring he went back to see the doctor. At the end of April a specialist told him that he may have a fractured vertebra and that he needed a bone density scan. The earliest that he could schedule the scan was July 1st, a whole nine weeks later. Nine weeks of full backpacks, and nervous waiting.

A friend at work suffers from chronic back pain due to work and automobile accident related injuries. This is a condition he has lived with for at least 10 years and that will be with him for the rest of his life. He has found that he can control his pain and improve his mobility by visiting a chiropractor two or three times a month. Unfortunately our health insurance at work (we have a very good and generous system) has a limit on the amount of money it will pay out in a plan year for chiropractic services. Since our plan year runs July to June, my friend has been unable to go to the chiropractor for the last few months because he is unable to afford the visits. It is not a surprise that he had an appointment July 1.

Finally another friend of mine has been in pain from her gallbladder for nearly a year. She has been to two specialists and has had many tests run to prove that she needs to have her gallbladder removed. Both specialists recommended that she have gallbladder surgically removed, but her insurance company rejected her several times because she "doesn't fit the clinical picture" of a patient for gallbladder surgery. Only after nearly begging her insurance and jumping through several more hoops, today she finally received approved for surgery. If two doctors say you need a procedure, it is an injustice for your insurance company to deny you that procedure.

Our system is failing and to point at the speck in Canada's eye is to ignore the problem. People who have insurance here are denied the level of service that they deserve. Socialized medicine is not perfect, but why can we not study what does works and implement those ideas here? our country deserves the best health care system for all of our citizens.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A question to my conservative friends

Why do conservatives distrust and fear the government by default, but have complete confidence and faith in the private sector?

Both the private sector and government are human endeavors and as such they are imperfect and tainted by sin. The private sector and the government have also both been the source of creative innovations that have greatly improved our standards of living. Why is it that the government rarely gets credit for its successes, and the private sector is rarely held accountable for its failures? The current state of our health care is a moral and financial failure. We spend more money on health care per person than anyone else in the world, and every day thousands of Americans go without the medical attention they need.

This is not right.

God is not pleased with this system.

We can do better. We must do better.

Jesus says that we will be separated like sheep and goats based on how we treat the poor. He said "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." I am lead to believe that it is a sin to oppose a health care system that will give universal coverage to the "least of these" because it will cost more money.

I may be a little biased as a government employee who is the son of two public school teachers, but I think our government can do a better job with health care than the patch work of private companies that are in charge now. They can't do much worse.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

One quick thought before bed

One of the exciting things we are working on at church is starting a free clinic to serve our community. Many of the people who come to our food pantry do not have access to basic medical services and we want to change that. We think that it is wrong that our brothers and sisters often have to choose between food on the table and health care.

In any other "first world" country (Canada, all of Europe, etc.) there would be no need for a free clinic. The idea of a church free clinic is redundant and laughable in England. The same idea is inadequate and sad in the United States.

It's 2:14 AM and I am finally starting a blog.

More than a few people have suggested that I should start a blog. I have resisted doing so up until this point for many reason but mostly because I have other important things to do (facebook of course), and I am not sure my thoughts are compelling enough to gather an audience (maybe my mom will show up).

What is my impetus for starting a blog at 2:14 AM on a Sunday morning? The netflix fairy delivered Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko" this afternoon and having nothing better to do tonight, we watched it. Talk about good timing. Over this past week I have been thinking about health care reform and about our government's responsibility for its citizens. Late in the week I reluctantly accepted the idea that the "Public Option" for health care insurance had lost the fight without landing a punch. It seems that the Public Option is going to be sacrificed in the the name of bipartisanship. After watching "Sicko" and seeing the disparity between our health care system and that our others around the world, my heart cries out over the injustice of our health care system. Abandoning the Public Option is not acceptable. In fact the Public Option may be the only just solution.

I know many of my friends will dismiss me for watching and promoting a Micheal Moore movie and there are some valid criticisms of the movie, but I ask you this: in his movie Moore takes up the cause of the down-trodden and oppressed, when you scoff and criticize, who's side are you taking? Empire has many sizes and forms.

So what can I do about it? Lying in bed tonight, I pondered what I might do to help change the course of a multi-billion dollar industry dead set on the status quo. I plan on writing my senators and congressman, but I felt compelled to do more. So like the widow and the unjust judge, I will plea for justice in our health care system until the powers that be relent. Hopefully someone is listening.