Thursday, September 17, 2009
Risk and Death
One year ago today, I lost my cousin to leukemia. In less than three months, my little sister will be shipped back to Iraq for her fourth tour of duty. Last spring, I lost a friend and mentor, Mona Harris, to cancer. My little brother recently returned from Afghanistan, and with that war showing no signs of ending, it is almost a surety that he will also be sent back into harms way.
I am sick and tired of death and the risk of death.
At the age of 32, I should rarely have to think of death. If I do, it should come in the form of elders that have lived long and fulfilled lives, individuals that die surrounded by the people that love them knowing that they are loved.
How fucking naive is that statement.
Unfortunately, I know that because I am not white and most of the people around me are not white, they will die younger than they should. I know because I have had one family member die from cancer that now it is more likely that others will also pass along.
And then there is war.
When a country enters into a war it enters into a compact with death. It promises to the Reaper the certainty of soul collection in order to achieve some goal. Some wars are fought because they must be fought. Though the impetus for the United States to enter the Second World War had little to do with justice and everything to do with empire, entering World War II was just. Hitler was an evil man with evil ambitions that caused great and destructive harm.
No war since then that has been fought by the United States has been right or just, they have simply been the United States trying to protect or enforce a particular corporatized political ideology or protect our own selfish and self-destructive political and economic interests.
The rest of the world and the families that sacrifice their children on the altar of false patriotism be damned.
The death of my cousin and Mrs. Harris and the risk of death of my little brother and sister are connected.
We spend BILLIONS of dollars each month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Forget Korea, forget Vietnam, forget the silent invasions of Grenada, Panama, Somalia and the first Gulf War. Just calculate the amount of money that we have spent in the last six years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now imagine if even ten percent of that money had been spent on cancer research and treatment.
My cousin almost survived leukemia.
He had an experimental bone marrow transplant, and for months the doctors at the University of Illinois-Chicago were calling him the miracle guy. Except the cancer came back and took him down quickly.
Afterwards they examined the data and thought perhaps they had done the transplant to soon, too quickly, they hadn't given his own immune system enough time to resist the cancerous blood cells. What if they had been granted a billion dollars to do their research? One billion dollars is LESS than we spend on war in one month. YET imagine what it would mean to research labs across the country. A year ago, perhaps the researchers would have known what they WILL know five years from now. If only they had the staff, equipment, lab space, and materials to move forward. If ONLY Bush hadn't restricted stem cell research during his eight years in office. If only we cared more about preserving life than we did about preserving the bottom line of corporations and shareholder profits.
But we don't. Instead, I am sitting here nearly a year after my cousin's death. I am remembering that I couldn't afford to fly from California to Minnesota to be with my family. To this day the guilt of that sits in my stomach. I saw my Aunt in June for the first time since my cousins death. All I could think of was that I was my cousin's closest family member outside of his Mom, Dad, and two brothers. I WAS the cousin that made sure to see him when he was in the hospital. I was the cousin that his wife loved. I was the cousin that went to see him when he got back from Korea. I was his friend.
And there is a good chance that if we spent more on life than on death that he would still be alive today, and I would still get to see him at family reunions and on holidays. I would have gotten to be at his wedding, and I would, perhaps, be with him right now.
Instead I am wondering how his nephew, the son of his twin brother, will ever know how amazing his uncle was. Instead, I wonder if my Aunty Susie, a woman that treated me like one of her own children, a woman that I love and look up to, a woman that understood me when I didn't really understand myself...I wonder if she will ever be the same aunty that I have known and loved my entire life.
And all because of a stupid disease that we could cure, except that we are too busy spending our money on war. And I am too busy worrying if I am going to lose my brother and sister too soon as well.