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By TOM EHRICH
c. 2011 Religion News Service
INDIANAPOLIS (RNS) My sister and I stood in the assisted-living apartment set up for our 94-year-old father and realized the moment had passed.
He needs to be in the health care unit at his retirement center. Assisted living would be too demanding.
He will never again sleep in this bed, knit scarves for the homeless in this wingback chair or watch Lawrence Welk in privacy. The coffee table he built for our family home will be donated for auction.
It was a sad moment and conflicting. For we were making decisions on behalf of someone who once took care of us. We couldn’t just take the measure of our self-interest — the loss, confusion and impatience that arise with aging parents. We had to imagine his interests, his need for a safe place and his new world of interiority.
Our nation has come to such a moment as this. A huge generation is starting to cross the line into retirement and, in time, dependence on others. Joining them in dependency are a vast and growing population of people who have no wealth and power, who lost in recent decades of power-grabbing and wealth-grabbing, and now will have health care, housing and security only if those who defeated them provide it.
Also joining them in dependency are children whose parents cannot afford private education and the millions whose daily lives send them onto bridges and highways that are crumbling.
There is no way for any of us to avoid standing in this room, looking at deterioration, aging and mindless mismanagement of the public sector. We have difficult decisions to make. I just wish I saw more sadness and more awareness of conflicted feelings.
Instead, I see glee. Finally, the tables have turned, and those who don’t want to care for anyone else can slash spending on which others depend.
Finally, those with adequate means can stop providing for those who should have been born smarter or whiter, who should have worked harder and avoided getting injured in combat, who should have said No when invited to smoke cigarettes or to eat fast food.
The glee of young conservatives in Congress and state governments is disturbing. Those who are years from needing Medicare and fortunes from needing Medicaid are making life-or-death decisions on behalf of older Americans, and are showing troubling unconcern.
Those who wouldn’t send their children to an inner-city school are making decisions about public education. Those who have cadged every dollar from polluters, bankers and pension-stealing employers are making decisions on behalf of those abused by those donors.
They cheer each other on and wrap themselves in a flag that all of us have worked to protect. They claim moral supremacy while serving their own interests. They boast of prudence and fiscal responsibility, while handing favors to the mega-wealthy and allowing infrastructure to crumble.
Where is the sadness? Where is the sense of being conflicted? Where is the discomfort in making decisions that others aren’t in a position to make but whose interests matter every bit as much as the wealthy writing big checks?
The budget battles under way show a take-no-prisoners disregard for the vulnerable that violates everything this nation has stood for. Then these oligarchs and their protectors have the gall to declare themselves “patriots” and worthy successors to those who threw off such monarchical arrogance.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

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