Have you ever wondered how other people see the world? For that matter, how do we ourselves see it? Are we floating in some kind of medium that is composed of the same material as ourselves–a multi-dimensional field, oceanic, sensitive, and perhaps even sentient? Or do we inhabit a concrete world bristling with hard surfaces and crammed with objects scattered near and far?
When I was a young man in Montreal, I often experienced my world as remote and unaccountable. Looking back now, I wonder if the fact that I drowned (and was revived) at two years of age could have had a long-term impact.
Imagine, being two years old: sinking alongside a small, inert body into the bitterly cold water of Lake Ontario in early March—breath and heart-beat arrested, the frustrations of the human condition replaced by warm light, comforting calm, and reassuring spiritual companions. Then abruptly, he is brought back with thumps on the chest, air forced into water-scalded lungs, and awakens to a ring of adult faces full of concern and (probably) guilt.
Might that have instilled in me a sense of being trapped in a life designed with other kinds of people in mind?
Over the years I have learned to I feel more at home with both myself and my surroundings, and from that perspective I’ve noticed that many people do not feel appreciated or effective in their work. A spirit of disengagement is fostered by arbitrary bureaucratic procedures that is harmful for the people working in these environments as well as for the quality of the work they produce.
Last week my family discovered that our health insurance was cancelled without notice two months ago. This is after six months in which we made hundreds of phone calls to the responsible federal agency (to a published number that is constantly busy) and wrote many fruitless e-mails—all with one object: to point out that our health plan enrollment information was not correctly recorded.
In the scale of what is happening on our planet (countries invaded for short-term commercial windfalls, people tortured and arrested without charges or representation in the community) my family’s situation is too inconsequential to warrant further discussion.
But this health care situation has engendered in me the kind of helpless feeling depicted in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”. Kafka’s character, “K”, is accused of some crime that is never specified. “K” yearns for an opportunity to explain himself to the authorities and clear up what he is certain must be a simple mistake. But for hundreds of pages he remains a helpless petitioner at the gates, is allowed no hearing, and given no opportunity to defend himself. Perhaps he has been forgotten or, like prisoners at Guantanamo, perhaps his existence is an embarrassment to powers that do not have the depth of character to acknowledge their own ineptitude and indifference.
When an element of the social matrix is considered “too big to fail” we are stuck with a lifeless mass that is too intertwined within our body politic to safely remove. And good luck getting a real person on the phone.