In 1971 when I was 18 I moved from a small rural town in Utah to Las Vegas where my dad and step mom lived with their two young sons. Since age 10 I’d been spending a few weeks each summer with them, as well as an occasional Christmas or Easter vacation, so I was somewhat familiar with the city.
My move to sin city came as a result of finding the man I’d married right out of high school in a lip lock with another woman. My brother and sister in law, fresh out of the military, were moving to Las Vegas so I asked if they’d like help paying the rent. They thought that was a splendid idea, so off we went.
I immediately found a job and settled in to my new freedom, away from a small town, religious boundaries, and an abusive husband. Having grown up in a town of 1200 people where my graduating class consisted of 38 students, it was nice to be in a place where I could reinvent myself (although that wasn’t my intention at the time, the idea had never even occurred to me.) No one here but my family knew my dark family history, or the personal secrets I’d never spoken about. For that matter, neither did anyone in the small town I came from. But none of that mattered now because I was free and the only boundaries I had were to listen to my gut, never do anything if it didn’t feel right, and don’t ever hurt another human being intentionally. I was off to the wild oats races.
During five of my six years in Las Vegas I worked in show reservations at the Las Vegas Hilton. The job came with certain perks, which I didn’t really appreciate at the time. I got to meet many famous people and even partied with a few. I dated some pretty influential people there, but not because they were influential; I simply connected with them on a deep level and liked being in their company.
The AHA Moment:
Over the past few years I’ve been pretty hard on right-wing conservatives for their seeming lack of compassion for the most vulnerable among us. They seem so out of touch with what’s happening to people all across the nation, and while parents are losing jobs and their health insurance, and the children’s poverty level has reach an all time high in what is supposed to be the richest nation in the world, conservatives in Congress are gutting the very social programs designed to help people in need.
Why do I bring this up? Because it recently occurred to me that all those years I spent in Las Vegas, rubbing shoulders with the wealthy, partying with Ann Margaret and Elvis, taking cruises to the Caribbean and flying to Mexico for a modeling jobs, my family – my disabled father, step mother and their two young sons were living in poverty, and struggling just to find food for their next meal. My father hadn’t worked in about 15 years and my step mom finally had to give up working due to serious health problems. When she died at age 58 in 1997 she had only recently been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. They had been on public assistance, so allowing her to get the necessary tests for proper diagnosis and treatment, I suppose was out of the question.
My two half brothers dropped out of high school and just did what they could to survive – selling drugs, dumpster diving for food, trying to grow a garden in the desolate sandy soil of North Las Vegas – and who knows what else.
But what I’ve just now come to realize is this: Other than dropping by some money once in while to help out, it never once occurred to me just how dire my own family’s situation was. I don’t remember ever asking if there was anything I could do, or if I could help with cleaning, or buy some groceries, or even take the boys for a few days. I was as oblivious to their plight back then as it seems most of the Republican members of Congress are now, to the plight of so many people who are hurting.
At the time I didn’t know better. I really didn’t. Perhaps they don’t either. Perhaps none of them have been in situations like my family where a father, who once fought and almost died for his country, was so seriously wounded in the war that eventually the repercussions rendered him disabled and he had to give up the job he loved, driving truck. And then what had once been my big strong father now had to rely on his wife to be the provider.
Perhaps conservatives in Congress have never had to do without quality health care and health insurance because they believe God has blessed them for being righteous, and perhaps they think that those who aren’t blessed simply don’t deserve to be blessed.
Today I recognize their ignorance because once I was ignorant too. I was young and naive and had just spread my wings in a grand new adventure away from the confines of organized religion and small town people. But what I’ve learned in the years since then is that the first thing we must learn – and then go on to teach – is that we are our brother’s keeper. We are our father and our mother’s keeper. We are here to be the hands of God on this planet. Do unto others as you would have done unto you and love your neighbor as yourself. Everyone living by these two principles alone would change the face of the world.
All but one member of that little four person family in Las Vegas is now gone and buried. My surviving brother, Michael, now lives in a beautiful rural community in Arizona, with his wife and in-laws. And although he still tangles with the law from time to time, he still grows a garden to feed his family, he gives to those less fortunate, and the light in his eyes that had gone out for a while from struggles no child should have to endure is slowly returning.
I have taken note of my ignorance and have promised to never again turn a blind eye to those in need. Although I know I will not be able to help every single soul that crosses my path, I’ll do all I can to ensure that those who have the power to ease their suffering will either do so, or will be pushed out of office and replaced with someone with enough empathy to care.