I drove out this morning into a thick fog. It wasn’t a surprise – my smartphone had alerted me ahead of time that it would be there – but it was still slightly disconcerting. I had to get to the clinic, so I didn’t really have a choice to sit home and wait for the fog to clear. People needed me. I could see a short distance ahead, but not far. The route to the clinic is one I have navigated countless times, but although the general path was clear in my mind, the realities of the current traffic and road hazards were not something I could know. I had to slow down a bit and prepare to react to what emerged from the fog as I proceeded.
Today is the day after the inauguration of the 45th president of our country. There are many citizens who are hopeful and looking forward to what the new administration brings. There are many others who are in a fog – scared, unsure of what hazards they will encounter in the days ahead, not sure what the path ahead will be, and not sure that their vision of a destination is the same as that of those in political power.
The red of brake lights broke through the haze before I could see the red of the traffic light. I took my cue from those ahead of me and slowed down, gliding to a safe, albeit mildly abrupt, stop.
Fear. We all feel it at varying times and to varying degrees. It’s a primal thing, the feelings caused by a release of epinephrine in our bodies evoking physiologic reactions of a quickening heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased blood flow to our muscles so that we can fight or flee. It widens our pupils to let in more light, just as an exposure to darkness does. But that pupillary dilation can make things blurry. Foggy. Unclear.
I continued on my way, nervously negotiating lane changes and turns, knowing that my risk of being hit by a truck that didn’t see me or of hitting a pedestrian that I did not see was significantly higher than normal. Not everyone was headed to the clinic this morning. Some were heading to the grocery store. Some were heading to the gym, to a movie, to work, to a pharmacy, to a friend’s house, to visit a family member. Different paths to different destinations, crossing, merging, and diverging with the paths of others.
People are afraid when they sense a threat. A threat to their lives or to the lives of those they care about. A threat to their ability to eat. A threat to their physical safety. A threat to their ability to care for and provide for themselves and those that depend on them. A threat to their dignity as human beings or they’ve only just recently attained through generations of people fighting for those rights, rights which are still tenuous and are still not fully achieved. Many are afraid for their physical safety because they fear violence from outside, and many are afraid for their physical safety because they fear violence from those who perceive them to be from outside.
Again, brake lights alerted me to an approaching red light. Those ahead of me provided guidance through the fog.
For generations, people have marched for their rights. They have marched when they’ve been afraid for themselves and for others. We have seen the effects of their efforts. We are guided by their experience. Today, people are marching. They are marching in Washington D.C. and in cities across the country and around the world. It is a women’s march, but the women are joined in solidarity by plenty of men. They fear different things, they have different priorities in what they are marching for, but they are all motivated by a desire to protect what each considers a fundamental right under threat. Marching and speaking out has worked before.
I arrived at the clinic, a place staffed entirely by volunteers to provide medical care to those without medical insurance – those who cannot afford to go to an urgent care center, to visit a doctor’s office, to purchase medications, but who do not make little enough to qualify for Medicaid. These patients work as seasonal laborers, as nurses’ aides, as caregivers for their elderly relatives or their young grandchildren. They can keep food on the table and a roof over their heads most of the time, but healthcare is a luxury they cannot afford. This clinic provides basic care while it partners with other organizations and some individual specialists to provide some of what we are not able to provide. Many of our previous patients at the clinic had been able to obtain insurance through the Affordable Care Act and were able to move into the general medical system, getting the comprehensive care they needed and freeing up our clinic resources for others in need. There is a real fear that these people will soon find themselves once again needing our help. Rolling up sleeves and staffing this clinic and soliciting the funds to keep it operational has worked thus far. I saw clearly in the clinic. The fog was safely outside. The work of each one of us there today continues, and we have many miles ahead of us in this particular march towards health.
Some march literally and physically, but we all march figuratively – in our support of those marching and of their causes, in our denunciation of those marching and of their causes, and in the words we speak and the actions we take.
When I left the clinic and headed home, the fog had lifted. I had a clear view of the roads ahead of me, of the cars changing lanes around me, of the brown bag blowing into the street, of the cyclist to my right. Our paths cross and coincide and intermingle as we head towards our intended destinations, some of us on roads that some others of us will never travel. May our head-on collisions be minimal. May the lights of others on the roads help guide us as our lights help show others the way. May the fog be kept at bay. May we all reach home safely.