Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Enduring Legacy?

Her hands trembled as she held the crumpled tissue. Slow tears rolled down her cheeks, following valleys in the wrinkles of her face. Well past 80 years old, she would have never imagined herself sitting across a table from me. Even worse, she was not prepared to accept what I had just told her.

“I'm sorry, there’s nothing else I can do. On Monday morning, the bank will foreclose on your home... Have you been able to secure another place to stay?”

This journey actually began several years earlier. She had come to my office with a story that is too common. Prior to the death of her husband, the house had been paid off, and they were settling in to spend the sunset of their life enjoying the results of their labor.

Then, the husband died, grandchildren needed help, charity causes came calling, and eventually, the money dried up and the house was mortgaged. Unfortunately, money continued to run out and mortgage payments were missed. By that time, children and grandchildren were nowhere to be found. We tried several means to save her house, but in reality, we were only postponing the inevitable. Eventually, the day came when the bell rang and time ran out. The house would be sold on the courthouse steps, and the deed handed to someone else. Decades of fond memories would be in the hands of someone who would only see a dated structure.

Watching her struggle to contain her emotions, I felt driven by compassion. This whole scenario came about only because she had the best of intentions. It wasn't fair.  I wanted to gather some money and pay off the balance of the mortgage so her tired and lifeless eyes could smile again.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had my own obligations to meet. Meeting her obligations, no matter how noble the actions, would have meant that my family would have ended out on the street.

You see, good intentions will bankrupt us if we do not have the means to carry them through.

But really, this homeowner is not my focus today, and that conversation took place about five years ago.

Today, I talk about health care.  Forgetting the ugliness of the lawmaking process, health care for all is a noble and high calling. It is an admirable goal to be able to ensure that no one is turned away because they cannot access affordable healthcare.  But like any act of benevolence, it is wise only if we can do so without sacrificing our future.

There are predictions of armageddon and projections from every angle.  I'm not smart enough to have all of this figured out.  I definitely have my opinions, and my wife and close friends have had to hear me rant and vent about it long enough now (sorry!).  I unequivocally oppose this bill.  Those in favor are painted with the broad brush of benevolence, while those who oppose are lumped together as incompassionate, heartless racists.  I think neither characterization is accurate.

I also think they are beside the point.  At least for the most part.

We are no longer the economic powerhouse we were before.  We are so intertwined with global economies that a hiccup can be heard around the world.  We are not only in the red every year, but we continue to go deeper in debt.  Our existing social benevolence programs are in deep trouble.  Medicare and Social Security may not be around for my children.

But this debt will.

Right after I learned about the passage of the bill, my thoughts went to the first half of Proberbs 13:22:

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children

We are to leave an inheritance, not debt.  We are to hand down value, not empty promises and unpaid burdens.  Yes, health care for all is a great goal.  But if we don't have the money to do it, we cannot.  To place this burden on the backs of my children is not just wrong, it's immoral.

Someday soon, our children and grandchildren will reach the cash register of life and the cashier, speaking with a Chinese accent, will extend his hand and say, “How would you like to pay for this?”

Is this the legacy for which we want to be remembered?

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