A few hours after I wrote this poem, my mother told me that here in the United Kingdom, it’s been suggested by the powers that be that cancer drugs should be issued not on the basis of need, but on the “economic value” of the patient.
Of course, in many countries, including the United States, this policy is already in place, in the form of expensive health insurance packages.
Many people draw themselves up in righteous indignation and say that yes, that’s right. A person’s worth should be measured in this way: If you can’t pay your way, you should be left behind.
Do I agree? No. Certainly not.
I don’t agree for many reasons, but this stands out: A person’s worth is not dependent on how they measure up economically, physically or intellectually.
A person who’s never worked because she’s emotionally sick, or someone who’s worked so hard that he’s driven himself to breakdown and will never work again, a person who’s intelligent, bright and witty, but physically incapable of lifting her hand to her mouth, or even the person who struggles so much intellectually, that he’ll never speak in recognizable words—not one of those people is worth less than I am, or less than top scientists, or less than politicians who make these judgements.
Moreover, economic contribution is not a measure of anything, other than, well, economic contribution.
Are we really so materially-minded and so shallow that this is the single most important thing? Are my children, who’ve taught me more and given me more joy in their short lives than anyone else, except perhaps my own parents, really less worthy until they start earning or “contributing economically”? Of course not.
The mistake we make in our so-called civilized societies, is to think that a person’s worth can be measured in these simplistic ways.
Perhaps we need to stop measuring altogether and concentrate on connecting, loving, being. Perhaps, if we do that, our need for expensive cancer drugs will, over time, become so reduced that there’s no need to make “difficult choices” about who gets them. The stress, aggressive behaviour and our ignoring of the health of the planet—and therefore of our own species—that’s so prevalent at the moment, will be laid aside, in favour of gentleness and respect.
We will all be more healthy—in mind, body and spirit.
Don’t measure me with scales and tapes.
I’m not a prize pumpkin that should be reckoned so.
Don’t measure me by height or weight,
discard or accept me, judge me or pity me,
love me or despise me
based on the bodily size of me…
I’d ask you to measure the pleasure my words bring,
or the perspective of my paintings
or the depth of my thought…
but I ought not, for in the dark of night,
when words flee and sight’s irrelevant
and my brain is incapable of anything more than staying afloat
—of staying alive
(And I’m not talking of physical night,
that falls softly and at dawn, slips away,
but the darkness that thunders ‘round my soul,
in plain sight of day…)
Will I be found wanting when all sense and sanity
have gone away?
Put them away,
your plumb lines and your calipers,
your gauges and thermometers,
scales and tintometers…
Close your eyes, if you must
—what they see is only dust,
though stardust, true, and beautiful…
Now, in the silence and the dark,
and Spirit, running through.
These things alone are true and they should be
the only measurement of you, or me.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Lauren Savory / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons