Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says theLord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
In the September of 2009, after several weeks of thinking about how to best accomplish it, she decided that the time had come to remove to remove her troublesome intestines. She was home alone, and lacking the necessary surgical tools, she found a butcher knife. She sat, naked on the kitchen floor, and plunged it deep into her belly. A friend found her a short time later, wild-eyed in a pool of blood, her guts spilling out onto the tile.
Seven hours of surgery later, she was admitted to the now-closed psychiatric wing of the regional medical center. A month later, and still quite insane, she was discharged, homeless and helpless. In the months that followed, she teetered between mania and depression, and finally, after another two months in the hospital this spring, she was discharged into the hands of her family. Another six months of intense outpatient treatment, and she has finally returned to stability. It was her fourth suicide attempt over the last quarter century.
During all those years, the convoluted system of public health and disability supports had repeatedly failed her. Despite repeated diagnoses of bi-polar disorder, in between the low points, she had tried to support herself. Once, a long time ago, she was an honors student in a nursing program, a licensed massage therapist, a tax payer. But those days are long over. She had been repeatedly turned down for Supplemental Security Income and Disability payments. This time though, this system worked. She was awarded $441 a month in SSI and Medicaid health coverage. She jokes that she can finally buy her “welfare Cadillac,” if only she could still drive.
My sister is one of the lucky ones. She has a family that has loyally stood by her through decades of her illness and always been able to feed, clothe and shelter her. Once, years ago, when she had appealed a denial for public health benefits, she and I sat before a Social Security judge.
“I believe you can work,” he said. “I’m denying this appeal.”
I looked over at her. She weighed less than 90 pounds then, and sat huddled in the chair, never looking at the judge. She nodded and sobbed quietly.
I was furious. “Look at her!” I shouted, slamming my fist on the table before me. “Would you hire her?”
The judge stared at me, unaware that a second mad Irishman sat before him. “Your honor,” I sneered. “Would you give her a job?”
“Case dismissed,” he said. And he got up and walked away.
I cursed him as he quickly shut the door to the courtroom behind him.
Finally, justice is done. She has a small income, not enough to live on, but enough for a few essentials. Most importantly, she has health care coverage.
Yet, it is now all threatened. Because South Carolina’s leaders have not thought about what happens to the real people they deride as cheaters, liars, lazy bums, cancerous growths on our society, they have bankrupted the system that is at the long last able to offer her a tiny safety net. By spring, the Medicaid coffers will be empty and my sister, and 600,000 other South Carolinians, will lose their health care.
I will hold them accountable and will hold her and those who suffer with her up as the evidence that the false shepherds who run our government are deserving of every last bit of opprobrium we heap upon them.
But it is not me they should fear. On this Christ the King Sunday, they should be reminded that there is One who judges the judges and Who will attend to them for their evil doings.