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Americans Don’t Need To Be Repaired

by Martha Quillen

I turned 62 in early October, and was promptly assaulted by symptoms of old age. A few days after my birthday, I woke up feeling so stiff I could barely make it down the stairs; my back ached, my muscles cramped, and my joints rebelled. I suspect it was merely the onset of a cold or allergy, not spontaneous degeneration. But such moments tend to worry me now that Ed is gone.

It’s not that I’m worried about dropping dead; I’m not. It has more to do with my new responsibilities, which sometimes seem beyond comprehension or measure. The dog, cats, appliances, bills, house, electronics, lawn, trees, gardens, laundry, furniture, plumbing, heating, banking, money-making, meals, trash, and snow removal are my bailiwick now.

They’re my responsibility, all mine, a fact made clear in the first months after Ed’s death when I was expected to compile a portfolio of records (death, marriage and birth certificates; military discharge papers; insurance papers; house and car titles; bank records, etc.) in order to lay claim to his estate.

To me, it felt as if our society was intent on eradicating every vestige of his existence – and the powers that be had made it my job to facilitate the process. Likewise it was my responsibility to pull myself together, re-evaluate my finances, get back to work, pay the bills, and figure out what I should do with the rest of my life.

To have a spouse die unexpectedly after four decades of marriage makes you feel lost, bereft, and dreadfully alone. But it isn’t the sort of loneliness you can alleviate by going to a party; it’s the sort of loneliness you sometimes feel at a party when you know that you don’t quite fit in. My husband was integral to all the plans and dreams I harbored in regard to traveling, working, retiring … so at this point, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, or even exactly who I am.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last four months, it’s that Americans are extraordinarily generous and kind. It is astounding how many people have offered me comfort, consolation, and aid. Neighbors have mowed my lawn, helped me move things, invited me over, and bought me dinners. People who only knew me from work, or college, or Ed’s columns, have given me their phone numbers, “just in case you need anything.”

And when I was a weeping mess embarrassed by my inability to think about anything but Ed? People shared their own experiences with me. They told me about their struggles with death and grief, and about what they went through when terminal illness, mental illness, Alzheimer’s, autism, and other terrible conditions struck their loved ones.

As it turns out, a lot more people than I ever suspected are handling heartbreaking personal tragedies, and are somehow managing to cope.

I’m overwhelmed by all of the things I need to do and decide now that Ed isn’t here, but in the last few months I’ve realized that a lot of Americans shoulder far more responsibility than I do, especially people taking care of young children, aging parents, ailing spouses, and disabled relatives. If they can endure, surely I can, too.


But this is an election year. So while I was hearing firsthand accounts of American families who were facing challenges with courage and perseverance, the Republicans were outlining their plan for fixing us. In their view, the U.S. government should oversee everyone’s birth control methods, keep women out of Planned Parenthood clinics, and stop gay lovers from exchanging vows to form loving and stable relationships.

And perhaps you haven’t heard, but apparently 47% of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes. You should check the numbers; it’s appalling how many people only pay state and local taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, sin taxes, and the like – and it results in a horrific burden for billionaires. This must indeed be stopped. In the future, old people, poor people, disabled people, and the unemployed should have to pay their fair share of income taxes.

And clearly entitlements have got to go, too. According to Mitt Romney, Americans have gotten to where they expect their government to help them. The shame of it. Imagine thinking that the U.S. government should try to alleviate the suffering of America’s poor, ailing and elderly. Don’t we already help too many impoverished people in Haiti and North Africa?

Obviously, it would be better to put our elderly out on ice floes.

But what of global warming? These days ice floes just aren’t practical.

Paul Ryan thinks we can reduce the costs of entitling America’s irresponsible multitude by privatizing Social Security. But what if a lot of eighty-year-olds get conned out of their vouchers? Or if some economic crash in the future bankrupts private pension plans, thereby leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans clamoring for relief from the Federal government?

In 2010, Ryan made similar proposals for privatizing Social Security, but they were dropped. Now, THEY’RE BACK – just like some horror movie sequel. Once a political party seizes on an unpopular idea, it just keeps returning – no matter how much it scares the electorate.

And this plan scares me. Ryan promises that his proposed changes for Social Security won’t affect people over 55, but a banker recently informed me that I can expect to live another twenty-three years, and should therefore marshal my resources very carefully.

Under other circumstances, hearing that I would probably live several more decades might have been cheering. But this was more in the nature of a preventative proclamation, warning me that I could easily end up spending several decades as one of Romney’s 47% – a blight, bother, and drain upon society who doesn’t even earn enough money to owe Federal income taxes. And yet I’ll doubtlessly be working, too – in order to supplement my meager Social Security benefits.

If you ask me, it’s just not fair how hard us irresponsible entitled people have to work. But what’s even more unfair is this crazy, mean-spirited political stereo-typing that elevates wholly bogus non-issues into the spotlight.

Deception, name-calling, racism, false accusations, fear tactics and fury have become the standard for politicking in recent years. It’s gotten so bad, that our world might be a better place if we made it a misdemeanor for candidates and elected officials to intentionally dispense lies and misrepresentations when addressing us. Fines could be imposed for “purposeful duplicity.” And the way things are going, duplicity revenues just might make it possible for Republicans to extend those Bush tax cuts into the future without raising the deficit, and the Democrats could easily quadruple NPR and Big Bird’s funding.

Republicans seem to think elected officials are supposed to improve the citizens rather than the country. But the vast majority of Americans I know don’t need to be reformed. How could you improve on the friends, neighbors and strangers who rushed to my side when I needed them? They’re already stellar.

And as for those Americans who are actually lacking in ethics, morals, honesty and integrity?

Don’t vote for them.


As a political humor columnist, Ed Quillen may have really enjoyed this campaign year, but without him around to make me laugh, it’s been more antagonizing than amusing.