A Capital Offense

A reminder of the intolerable reality that in a nation of incredible wealth, we allow people to die—abandoned, suffering, alone.

by Judy Andreas

I still recall the day that I decided to watch the inauguration of George W. Bush. The luxury of time had permitted me to read a few e-mails before the “festivities” began. Among the letters was an article called “The Poorest of the Poor,” written by Judy Jones. The article described Ms. Jones’ experiences at Mother Teresa’s house for homeless men and women dying of AIDS, in Washington, D.C.

Judy wrote: “A young woman in her early twenties was sitting on the side of her bed. She was dying of AIDS. ‘Would you please put some cream on my legs, they hurt so badly.’ Reaching for the cream on the dresser beside her bed, I gently rubbed some on her legs. ‘Oh thank you, God bless you,’ she said.”

I finished the article and turned on the television in an attempt to focus on the other event in the nation’s capital — the swearing in of the recipient of Mr. Diebold’s gift. Words like “integrity,” “character” and “treatment of others” came out of the moving mouth on the screen. The lofty words rang hollow. The empty, scripted smirk was drawing applause from an adoring flock, while, inside my head, visions of deformed and mutilated babies on the battlegrounds of Iraq were now being joined by the sick and the dying at Mother Teresa’s home.

Judy Jones had written: “As Sister took me downstairs to the basement where the women’s beds were, I heard screaming. Walking up to the woman, I said, ‘What’s wrong, may I help you?’

The woman appeared to be in her nineties, all shriveled and tiny. The Sister told Ms. Jones that they had found her lying and dying in the snow. It was not unusual for the home to receive phone calls about people who were left to die on the streets of Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, part one of the extravaganza was finishing. The inauguration was over, or more precisely, it was en route to the inaugural lunch where scalloped crabs and lobster headed the menu. Somewhere between the 17th use of the word “liberty” and the 27th use of the word “freedom,” I had lost my appetite.

The promises for the remaining reign had been made. They were penciled on the calendar of uncertainty — along with “liberty” and “freedom.” The speech had contained some obvious omissions. There was no mention of the war in Iraq. Perhaps the president did not want to sully the joyous occasion.

What would be first on the Bush administration’s agenda? Would it be the plundering of the Social Security system, a successful program that is being targeted for privatization; a successful program that, regardless of the propaganda, is not in crisis. Plans to revamp the program could devastate the elderly who depend on the small stipend to survive. The revamping could birth a need for more facilities like Mother Teresa’s home.

I reread the article by Judy Jones. Each paragraph was filled with the anguish of the dying destitute. Each paragraph was a display of loving kindness shown to people cast aside by an indifferent society. Each paragraph was a reminder of the intolerable reality that in a nation of incredible wealth, we allow people to die … abandoned … suffering … alone.

I contemplated the distance from the Capital of the United States to Mother Teresa’s Home — Eternity.

Painting of Mother Teresa of Calcutta by San Francisco poet Judy Jones.

Painting of Mother Teresa of Calcutta by San Francisco poet Judy Jones.


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