Obamacare! Government shutdown! Republicans, Democrats, class wars, racism! Honestly, I turned it off and tuned it out about a week ago. I had my head, heart and hands dealing with an immediate problem, a real life situation that is a vivid and painful reflection of the arguments going on in this nation.
His name is Nathaniel Pucket. He is single, twenty-seven years old. His mother moved away about four years ago and resettled in West Virginia far from the Jasper, GA town he grew up in. He is beautiful inside and out. About 5’11’’ solid muscle, honed with his four years of service as a Boatswain’s Mate stationed out of Japan in the US Navy. Even two years after his honorable discharge, he has kept in shape riding his motorcycle’s and doing labor as a chef’s assistant or working in kitchens when he couldn’t find a good paying assistant chef’s job. Needless to say these jobs do not pay enough for him to cover insurance premiums so he doesn’t have any.
His really curly hair is cut military close and his eyes are that delicious chocolate brown that complements his mocha skin, which is the color of a great coffee with a bit of milk and sugar in it to enhance the flavor.
He has been living with other single men renting an apartment and actively involved in Willow Dragonstone Community, a circle without hierarchy and a dogma of practice. He has lead ritual in our community and been an overall force for good.
Last Friday, after spending time with a circle mate holding her hand while she got a new haircut, he was on his way home. He was thinking about starting school soon on his military scholarship to study computers and computer networking. He slowed his bright blue Yamaha bike which made the loud engine pitch to the downshifted tone as he approached a major intersection. As long as he has been riding bikes, he has learned to be cautious. Noting his green light and the passing of the large SUV in front of him through the intersection, he let off the brakes to move through.
The Lexus sport utility didn’t see him, the driver would claim later. Having the red light, she turned left cutting off Nathaniel’s natural crossing of the intersection and causing him to impact the Lexus at forty miles per hour ejecting him from the bike. She would later be ticketed for failure to yield among other things.
The off duty ambulance waiting on the other side of the intersection immediately turned on its lights and moved to provide aid. The only thing Nathan was sure of during the accident was that he was going to be in some serious pain. The thing he was aware of after the accident was the other driver saying that she never saw or heard him. For her, Nathan appeared out of thin air to crash into her vehicle.
As horrific as the accident was, it has been the ongoing fight since then that has zapped his energy and his strength. The ambulance saw him safely to the hospital where I would find him on a back brace with a neck collar. My husband (who is also my High Priest) and I would hold his hand while we learned that he had a fifteen break fracture of his left humerus bone broken directly above the elbow. His left foot and ankle had fared no better. He had a split fracture with multiple dislocations. Basically the bone attaching his large toe to his ankle had shifted backwards, impacting with the ankle bone, splitting down the middle, dislodging and dislocating all the other connective bones.
The orthopedic surgeon would never come in to consult that night. Now immobile, they wrote a prescription for a wheel chair, bundled his leg and arm up in temporary splints and sent him packing. If my husband had not spoken up, I firmly believe he would have been shipped off to adult social services instead. A circle mate took him in temporarily until my family completes our move into a home that would be better suited to his short term disability. Starting the next day, the battles began.
Suddenly unemployed and waiting on his last pay check, his medication was $200. The wheelchair nearly $1000. Our circle mates helped cover the cost of the pain medication which was all that they could afford. My husband used his contacts to borrow a wheel chair and Monday Nathan and I tried to see the same orthopedist who wouldn’t bother to see him in the ER. At his office the mantra was, “Does he have insurance? Does his motorcycle insurance have med pay? We do not accept third party insurance.” After getting essentially the run around all day Monday, we broke down and sought legal advice.
Sitting in Murrin and Wallace’s law office, I was faced with two legal experts in motorcycle accidents and they kept saying, “They sent him away like this? Really?”
Nathan was in pain. I knew that whenever a bump was run over or he had to figure out how to inventively get into the vehicle he was in pain. He was doling out pain medication like the very precious commodity it was. Murrin and Wallace made it clear. In most other circumstances medical insurance allowed accident victims to receive treatment and then seek damages from the driver who caused them.
“This is what the Affordable Health Care Act is trying to prevent,” Steve Murrin tells us, “People who have insurance believe everyone has insurance.”
However, because the hospital had sent Nate away without treatment, he was left in the precarious situation of not having had treatment and not having any prospects for treatment.
Tuesday, I sent Nathan an email of homework. A long list of links I had found for him to apply for, everything from food stamps and unemployment to Medicaid (which is unavailable to new applicants because of the Government Shutdown) and VA benefits (which take five or more days to process). I spent a significant amount of time on the phone calling social workers at various agencies trying to get him something that would cause him to be able to receive help. During this time, I heard his bones knitting together wrong causing him to be wheelchair bound the rest of his life and unable to use his left arm for any purpose.
Call after call the mantra kept returning, “They sent him away with those injuries?” Some said it differently and the essence was always identical. As it did my constant background noise, like bones grating upon sandpaper keeping me on edge, and a horrible realization took root in my mind.
Nathan had been considered less of a human, someone less worthy than others for treatment because he didn’t have insurance or because he was mocha in a lily white hospital in the South or he was single and separated from his biological family, perceived as the weak link in the herd that not be miss if something went awry with him.
As this realization settled on my shoulders, my pent up rage at a system steeped in racism and classism bubbled in me like Cerridwen’s cauldron and I snapped. I did the one thing people who enforce the status quo hope no one will ever do. I spoke.
“They sent him away with those injuries because he was black in that lily white ER. He was single and seemed to have no immediate family who cared around him. He had no insurance and the hospital and doctor all hoped he would become someone else’s problem on some other day knowing full well that not much was likely to change fast enough for him to get the proper treatment. In short, the doctor and hospital just couldn’t be bothered.”
The representative from the doctor’s office sat in stunned silence as what I said sunk in. My Southern sensibilities quaked as I considered what I had done by shattering the sound proof barrier of apathy.
“That was the ER Doctor and hospital’s call,” she said with a shaky breath. “Maybe I need to take my complaint up with them.”
And I did. I was nervous. I was scared. I was worried. Was I really doing what was in Nathan’s best interests? Still, I couldn’t rid my ear of that bone knitting noise that kept playing like a deranged loop in my brain. In the end, isn’t it better to do something, I reasoned with myself, than nothing?
I would speak with a low level administrator about my complaint. I would make my assertions to them about the horrible situation they had placed Nathaniel in. I would cite his record as a service man with our country and the Hippocratic oath. I would talk about the trials and tribulations they had laid at his feet when they patted him on the head and sent him out the door. I would talk about community and the responsibilities of those in power in our community. People whose decisions can make things better or worse for someone.
After my controlled and passionate dressing down, the administrator would say, “What do you want from us now?”
“Want? I want Nathaniel Pucket to be treated. I want his bones to be set properly before they heal improperly and cost the system and your hospital more money. I want Nathan to have the chance to walk again and drive again, preferably in a safe automobile. I want him to be able to stay in my home and his brow to not be marred by constant pain, unable to sleep because your hospital and the orthopedic doctor were all too busy to care about the long range consequences they made last Friday when he was in your hospital the first time. I want Nathan to be getting well so the lawyers and he can figure out how to pay for this horrible occurrence that wasn’t even his fault!”
She hung up without any promises and I resolved to call back if I didn’t get any response.
I had only been in my office forty-five minutes when Nathaniel called urgency ringing through his voice mail. Scared that he was doing worse than I thought, I promptly called him back.
“I don’t know what’s happened but the doctor’s office and ER called me and said to come straight to the hospital. They are going to treat my injuries. I need a ride.”
I laughed. I mean it was an ironic belly laugh. In that single moment I had an epiphany. I don’t have to hold signs to make a difference. I do not have to enter into heated debates online or send money to some group that supports what I believe. I simply have to have to BE. Isn’t that the traditional charge of High Priests and High Priestesses in my tradition?
To Know. To Do. To Will. To Be.
To Be Silent? No! I wasn’t silent. Suddenly every argument and discussion I have had with Pagan elders came into focus and the above clergy mantra took on a whole new meaning.
To know. I knew what was right. Everyone I spoke to knew what was right. We all knew that the right thing, the ethical thing, the things required by the Hippocratic oath had not been done.
To dare. I had done all I knew how. If I could have operated on Nathan I would have and that skill is outside of me. It required someone else to do, someone else to step up and act.
To will. I could have done a working. I know that others in our community did do workings. One community sister told me she pulled out the “big guns,” setting a special altar to address the obstacles Nathan faced. However, my willing something through magic alone would not necessarily force the action Nathan needed.
To be. I am what and who I am. I am a writer and I am activist. Maybe not in a protesting, sign waving, get arrested kind of way, but an activist I am. I am a High Priestess with my own pledges and oaths to uphold. I am educated and well spoken. I am white in the white South. With all these titles and privileges I can actively accept that they are my right. Or I can fight to extend the same privilege to my fellow humans because food, essential medical care, shelter and opportunity should not be given based on race, religious orientation, sexual orientation or the circumstance determined by their birth.
To be silent. Recently this has been consistently sited as the driving reason for the clergy to be neutral when it comes to divisive topics. Groups have been saying, “Let’s not take an open stand on the poor, class warfare, and race because it might offend.”
The reasoning is that the privilege of high priest/esses, elders, leaders in a Pagan community is to know things that not everyone does. Information, the working of negotiations, the politics that drive the large actions directed by leaders and elders. Our spirituality and these political issues do not cross, they are separate from one another.
It wasn’t until Nathan called that I realized silence and apathy are kissing cousins and my spirituality and politic issues are not separated, they are one. Everything is One. Clergy’s silence on social issues supports the idea that essential human care, food, shelter, equal opportunity and medical care, happen or do not happen because of the whims of the universe or because the person happened to have some internal flaw that makes life more difficult. When the very thing that prevents others from having essential human care is racism, classism, sexism, religious and sexual orientation and attitudes of entitlement unchecked – these are the social, political, issues that many have decided aren’t in clergy’s prevue.
So I ask Clergy this…
Who better to raise a sword and fight, if not for us, the spiritual warriors who have been trained to do battle? Are we only called to do the abstract? To pray and light candles? If we have risked nothing, our names, our beliefs, have we really been in service to the gods and goddesses and our community? Or are we playing at being clergy? Are we whipping out the title of Lady, Lord, and Reverend without having done the real hard work that earns that title? Are conferences, inter-faith meetings and long winded blogs enough to make the case that we are providing for our community? Are these things simply our way of making ourselves feel like we have done actual work instead of doing actual work?
If our spirits and our walks as leaders have lead us to lead, how can we if we do not defend the weakest among us? Who else will see the disenfranchised, the discriminated against and fight for them if not for the lauded class of clergy? Where will pagans turn on this physical plan for a manifestation of Warrior Gods and Warrior Goddesses if not among those they have elected, chosen or have been ordained to lead? How can we say that classism, privilege, racism, religious discrimination and any law, action or behavior that leaves a spiritual being disenfranchised and wounded is outside the prevue of spiritual work? Isn’t, by definition, these things the work? How can leaders address these spiritual wounds while refusing to address what actively does the damage? Don’t our people need both sword and shield? Confidant and advocate? Leader and servant? Warrior and healer? How can you know and then be silent?
Before, I simply did not realize my silence was cripplingly people, figuratively and literally. There are plenty of Nathans out there – how many fall through the cracks and dissolve into obscurity untreated and uncared for while clergy hides behind precious silence and the separation of politics and spiritual growth and development?
To know. To Do. To Will. To Be.
To Be Silent… NO MORE.
END NOTE: Nathaniel Pucket was denied treatment on Friday, September 27, 2013. Nathaniel was admitted into the same hospital that had originally denied him Thursday, October 2, 2013. He entered into a double surgery on Friday, October 4, 2013 to fix both his humerus and foot injuries. Before surgery, Nate was told that because of the severity of his injury to his foot and the length of time permitted to elapse before treatment, he would never see a 100% recovery. He will be required to be fitted with arch support he will be forced to wear the rest of his life. Additionally, they anticipate arthritic and ongoing pain complications. A circle sister has agreed to be with him on Friday and Saturday and to take him in when he is released. Next week he will move with my family into our new home which will be better suited to his ongoing recovery. Saturday, October 5, 2013, Willow Dragonstone Community will be at Atlanta Pagan Pride Day. Despite his injuries, Nathan had volunteered to be at PPD and supply our group with water before his re-admittance into the hospital. He actually apologized that he couldn’t deliver as promised. Other circle members gladly took up the slack.
Nathan was most upset by the idea that being single without immediate family present may have caused his predicament because he lived with other single guys in similar situations. In essence, he clearly saw the potential for the system to hurt other people he knows and loves regardless of race.
I will be updating Nathan’s status regarding his recovery and on-going legal issues on my Facebook page, and at the Willow Dragonstone Community Facebook group. Those who would like to donate monetary support for Nathan’s care may do so to me by contacting me via email . I would like to publicly thank Nathan for allowing me to tell his story.
[The opinions expressed here are those of Lydia M N Crabtree, and do not necessarily represent those of The Wild Hunt, its contributors, or underwriters.]