It used to be that when you took a flight, you were treated like royalty. I remember the first time that I flew to Europe when I was 12, my parents insisted that my sister and I look nice for the flight, because that is what you did then. They were right. Everyone on the flight dressed up. Flights used to be expensive and fewer people were able to fly, so you were treated in coach class then more like first class today. That was before flights got cheaper, people started wearing sweat pants to travel, and flying began to feel more like traveling by bus. Then to add insult to injury, airlines began cutting back on services to save money. You used to get a free movie and a hot meal; now you’re lucky if you get a bag of pretzels. It’s gotten to the point in which customers are starting to wonder when airlines will start charging money for oxygen.
The idea that oxygen could become a new travel expense may seem far-fetched, but in the United States, a debate is raging right now about who gets to have health care. Republicans believe that health care is a privilege, like cable tv or cell phones or owning a car. Democrats believe that health care is a right, more like oxygen on a plane that no one should ever be denied, regardless of what class they are in. What is scary to me is that neither side can see the merits of the other side, so our country is becoming more and more polarized. Democrats refuse to see the fact that there are people in our society who try to game the system, like educated graduate students applying for Food Stamps, or healthy people pretending to be sick to get Disability. And there are citizens who have four children with four different fathers as teenagers and have no way to support them, expecting everyone else to pay. But Republicans refuse to see that we are not all born with equal opportunity. A child born to a teenage addict is going to have a harder time than a child born to two educated parents who want and love him. And society needs to help those who are born less fortunate.
As I always tell my kids, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I am lucky to have the life I have, and I also know that to those who are given much, much is expected. Every religions talks about the importance of helping those who are struggling. As a society, and as a world, helping to bring others up elevates us all. And yet we have a mean-spiritedness in our discourse, an every man out for himself concept that is uniquely American, something that the rest of the world just shakes its head over. If a child is born with a disability or an older person doesn’t have the money to care for herself, do we just throw them out on the street? A compassionate society understands that if you are more successful, you need to give more to help those who can’t contribute as much. It’s only right.
As you seek your world stage, don’t ever forget that you were once a little baby, relying on the goodness of others to take care of you. Don’t forget all the people who have loved and helped and encouraged you along the way to help you get to where you are. You are not successful because you are more special. You are where you are partly due to hard work and sacrifice, but also because of luck and timing and lots of help and well-wishers along the way. The best way to celebrate your good fortune is to think of others. Nobody chooses to be poor or to have a sick child and our country is stronger when our people are healthy. Health care should be a right that every one has access to, just like K-12 education and fire and police services. And if airlines ever try to start charging for oxygen, let’s hope that there’s a big fight, because we all have the right to breathe, just as we all have the right to health.
These are selfies passengers took from a recent flight that required oxygen mid-flight.