Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sometimes You Can't Decide For Yourself

When I was a kid, my father had a really funny thing he used to do at Christmastime. Starting a few days before the 25th, he would start lobbying to get to open his gifts early. Like real begging and pleading and fussing -- the kind you associate with children.

On certain occasions with certain gifts, he would get his way, and he'd open those presents early. Certainly any gift that came from outside our immediate family -- that is, not from me or my mom -- he considered fair game to open whenever he wanted. So there was a fair amount of opening on Christmas Eve, even though really we were a "Christmas morning orgy of opening" kind of family.

On Christmas morning, my father would complain bitterly, but, you know, jokingly too, about not having any surprises, about not having as many things to open as me and my mom. Poor me! Nothing to open! On Christmas morning!

I remember finding this awesome and hilarious. I thought it was awesome that an adult would care so much about presents that he'd actually be upset about not having enough at the right time. Even if he was sort of hamming it up, I thought was awesome that an adult would carry on like that. About Christmas presents! Most adults I knew were focused on planning family events, buying stuff for kids, cooking, you know.

And I thought it was hilarious that he would fail to learn, or would pretend to fail to learn, year after year, that opening on Christmas Eve meant fewer presents Christmas morning, and that fewer presents Christmas morning was less fun than more presents Christmas morning.

Eventually my mom and I found a way to take this game to the next level: we would hide certain key presents and pretend they didn't exist so that no matter what happened Christmas Eve, my father would always have as much Christmas morning excitement as me and my mom.

This was just one of a range of very funny things my father used to do. Like telling me that airplanes only went up in the air because everyone prayed at the same time (he was an engineering professor), or telling my little friends that if they wanted their parents to get them a pony they should throw a temper tantrum the next time they were in the grocery store.

But I got thinking about the Christmas thing recently because I was reflecting on the ways we do and do not allow people the freedom to choose their own futures.

In a previous post, I mentioned as a kind of off-handed joke the idea that some people felt it was their right not to have health insurance -- that if they wanted to spend the money on other things they should be allowed to.

The prospect of lots of people not having health insurance upsets me a lot. And I can tell you why. Health is one of those things that it's easy to undervalue while you have it. Planning for illness is one of those things no one likes to do. Once you're sick, though, you'd have to be a figure of towering rationality and self-control not to say to those around you, "Help me. I'm sick. I'm dying. There's treatment, and I need it, and I can't pay. Please help me!"

And, you know, if someone says those things to me, I'm going to want to help them. I will find the early deaths of such people incredibly painful.

In that sense, the commitment to shared medical care isn't something you sign on for just because it's in your own self interest, it's something you sign on for because of the people around you, who care about you -- whether they're intimates, friends, or just fellow-citizens.

I consider it my right to infringe your freedoms in this way, at least to some extent. The alternative infringes on my freedom not to be surrounded by sick, dying people who -- oops! -- changed their minds about the whole dying thing once it came into close view.

Sorry, we're going to have to hide your presents sometimes. Hope you don't mind too much. Maybe you'll be happy later.

1 comment:

Sid said...

Well said. I couldn't agree more. But health care reform, like immigration reform, are unlikely to be realities any time soon in the United States (not that I care about immigration reform). The former is just the latest hobby horse for U.S. lefties as the latter is for U.S. righties (as if the righties needed to add another to the list with God, guns, and family/homophobia).