Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 8, 2004
Embrace our vulnerable souls
Carping about AISH drowns out the real value these people give to us
By GLEN ARGAN
At first, my inclination was to let Premier Ralph Klein's comments about alleged abuse by people receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) pass without comment. Many others had spoken about it; the premier's mother was dying; I didn't want the WCR to seem partisan in the middle of a provincial election campaign.
As the days went by though, I remained unsettled about the premier's fear that seemingly the worst thing that could happen would be for some people living in poverty to take advantage of the government to the tune of $850 a month.
Severely normal concern
I was also concerned by his assumption that "severely normal" people would not be concerned about those receiving AISH. I was concerned about the degradation of the people on AISH by his comments. And I was concerned that it is so often the most vulnerable people who come under attack - the unborn, the sick and dying, the homeless, the mentally ill, the lonely, the imprisoned, the mentally handicapped and the physically handicapped.
By God's grace, I have met many people at vulnerable points in their lives. I am not always patient or understanding with them. I often do not meet the need God has put me in their lives to fulfill. But when I do take the time, when I do allow myself to be open to their vulnerability, I have found I become a little less severely normal.
Our tendency is to throw vulnerable people on the trash heap. They are not good for anything; they are a drain on the gross domestic product, rather than a boost for the economy. They make us feel uncomfortable. They make us think about things we would rather forget - death and dying, the dark times in our own lives, our wealth in the midst of poverty.
People fear assisted suicide and euthanasia coming down the pike. They should be afraid. Euthanasia is what we will get when we can only think of the cash value of a person. Euthanasia will be society's fate when only the severely normal are valued. Our society is moving in that direction.
Open our eyes
It is grace to see vulnerable people for what they are - gifts who can expand our horizons, who can help us see beyond the ordinariness of everyday life to what is really important.
Many years ago, Jean Vanier told this story: "One day, I went with some sisters of Mother Teresa to a slum in Bangalore where they looked after some people with leprosy. The sores stank and, humanly speaking, it was revolting.
"But the people there had light in their eyes. . . . The expressions and smiles of the people seemed to reach right into me and renew me. When I left, I felt an inexplicable joy."
Rid the world of people on the margins and you will rid the world of joy. You will be safer : you won't have to worry about "welfare bums" ripping off the system, or about street people asking you for a loonie. (You will not, of course, be freed from other people ripping off the system for a lot more money than the severely disabled ever get their hands on.)
Fruits of the Holy Spirit
But this safer world will be sterile. We will be protected from the inconvenience of vulnerable people. We will also be protected from ourselves. And we will be protected from the fruits of the Holy Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Is this what we really want? I doubt it. We do want the joy and peace and kindness, but without the fuss and bother of having to deal with inconvenient people. We are too busy. We don't want them wasting "our" money.
But remember one thing: When a society rejects its own weakest and most difficult members, it is no longer a community. It may be a more efficient economy, but it is not a place for people.
I know the premier's fear of being ripped off is shared by many. But we need to shed this fear. When we open ourselves to the most vulnerable, we will occasionally be ripped off. But more often than not, we and our community will be made more fully alive. It's a risk we need to take and keep on taking.
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