I was at a Thanksgiving supper with neighbors recently (warning to everyone who knows me: there’s about a 30% chance that you will, at some point, inspire a piece of writing or end up a character in a story; how that ultimately plays out is kind of up to you), and the topic of wealth-hoarding in this country, as it pertains to social problems, came up (it wasn’t that specific, I’m narrowing the focus to make a point) — specifically, my continued insistence that if we treated disease, poverty, and education problems the same way we treat foreign policy and war, and just throw buckets of money at it, we’d probably solve those problems. I mentioned the statistic that, at one point in the housing crisis, there were more repossessed homes than homeless people, and that seemed to present a solution. She mentioned that there are other problems usually associated, and sometimes homeless people can’t hang onto housing.

This is mostly-accurate, but it was another little, “Our species is severely fucked” moment for me. It’s possible that if we gave every homeless person in America a house or condo that was repossessed, some — or even most — would eventually drift off, or turn it into a crack house or something. Here’s what would happen more immediately, though. For just a few nights, every single person in America would have a roof over their head and a warm place to sleep. If that seems like some pie-in-the-sky kumbaya dream; I really hope the God of the New Testament is real, and I hope I’m there when She asks you how the Least Among You are doing.

In the meantime, it’s that sort of over-complication of a very simple problem (people need affordable housing) that allows us to turn over some very obvious solutions (subsidized housing, pay an actual living wage for every single working person), by creating complex underlying problems — so complex that they unintentionally work as a rationale for inaction. I realize I’m possibly overlooking some vast web of interconnected economic principles and sociopolitical pressure, but, I know from formally studying cancer and then becoming a survivor, that academic life and reality are so far apart that they become distorted and reality is forced to bend to accommodate it. Prior to actually getting a cancer diagnosis, I’d formally studied immunology, histology, physiology, and, yes, cancer biology. I could’ve told you about MHCs, disruptions in the cell cycle, and how hard it is, theoretically, to correct intracellular errors.

The horrible truth is; when you’re in the hot-seat, life gets much, much more horrifically simpler. Complete treatment and survive, maybe; discontinue treatment and die, horribly. When you’re faced with those two options, the former seems suddenly much more doable. I’m contacted regularly by other brain tumor survivors who want some sort of magical cure that lasts forever. Because I’m familiar with the statistics, they’re not usually too happy with my standard response of, “Well, I’m only alive now, but I fully expect to get more cancer, later. Just focus on making it through the month.” But that’s how I turned a 17–24 month life expectancy into 25 months.

At this critical moment, my generation is inheriting a host of consequences and sins from previous generations. As I see it, we have a few options:

A. Wait for the federal government to swing back to 1970s-era values and start solving them.

B. Claim it’s not our problem, and keep going.

C. Realize that we are the saviors we’ve been waiting for, and, without any expectation of any material gain or returns, pitch in and fix the problem.

If you’re wavering in your selection, may I remind you, G. Thunberg started protesting the Swedish parliament, utterly alone, in August 2018.

My message to you, this solstice is, based on friends’ statements from countries like Lebanon and Pakistan (even if you don’t know me personally, that 30% stat still applies), is that collective apathy and tolerance of economic sectarianism (usually associated with religious sectarianism — which the US also has a big problem with) are the enablers of failed states.

This year, for the holidays, instead of trying to address the underlying causes of homelessness or medical crises, can we just put a roof over everyone’s head, give everyone a single grace day of free medical care, give everyone enough food for just one day? That shouldn’t be impossible — or even hard.

Just one.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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