I think taking one day per year and dedicating it to being thankful is a good idea. Actually, I wake up most mornings just being thankful for being alive, thankful for my good health, for my wonderful family, and for being able to do the work that I do.
Those that know me well, know that I am fond to say that “I am caught in a positive feedback loop.” While not without its share of stress, there is no doubt that the Hooser Ohana is way better off than the vast majority of people on the planet.
I work each day, interacting with talented, creative, and committed individuals who spend their lives trying to make the world a better place. I have a family and friends whom I love, and who love me.
Think about it. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I sleep each night in a home that is dry and safe, and my most significant concern when it comes to food is trying to eat organic and avoid processed food-like substances and pesticides.
Much of the planet and many of the people we live alongside of here in Hawaii live in constant stress and struggle. We see them under bridges and along the roadside, huddling under blue tarps in the rain and eating whatever is convenient, cheap, or simply available.
Thankfully my health is good, and because of the excellent coverage provided by my wife’s employer, I have never ever had to worry about the cost of going to the doctor. When I do have to go, rarely do I ever see a bill. The amount $32 comes to mind and I’m thinking that is the co-pay requested from me. I possess no memory of ever being worried about being concerned about the cost of health care.
Many in our community live without health insurance and in constant fear of getting sick, or breaking a bone or whatever. I will never forget the time when I was at a local hotel standing near an older couple, when the woman collapsed directly ahead of me. As I caught her limp body I remember shouting to the doorman to call 911 and get an ambulance. I will also never forget the look on the old man’s face as he worried about the condition of his wife and mouthed the words “how much is that going to cost.”
I know young parents who hesitate to take their children to see the doctor and go only when they absolutely have to because the cost of the visit will add yet one more financial burden to their lives.
Most of us, who are fortunate to have good health coverage never hesitate one little bit and will jump in the car and go right to the emergency room rather than risk a situation going untreated.
The huge disparity between the very rich and the very poor is a global issue that exists here in Hawaii. Many of us in the middle, the so-called middle class, actually reside just a few steps away from those blue tarps as well.
Yes, we are fortunate to own our own home, replete with a $400,000-plus mortgage and monthly payments that could easily be crippling if there is an extended illness, a job loss or any of a multitude of life crisis that sometimes unexpectedly arise.
According to a 2017 study by GoBankingRates, “People living in Hawaii are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck than in any other state.” The study also found that approximately 57 percent of Hawaii residents have less than $1,000 in the bank and are one paycheck away from a downward spiral into poverty and homelessness. In addition, a 2017 report from global charity, Oxfam, found that the richest 1 percent of people in the world control 82 percent of the total wealth.
Yes, just about every person that is reading this column has much to be thankful for and we should celebrate and embrace our fortunate circumstances.
But we must also remember the less fortunate, the down and out, the poor and the sick. And we must do more that just remember them one day per year via donation of food at the local pantry, or perhaps helping to serve at the annual Salvation Army “feed the poor” Thanksgiving gathering.
We must endeavor to embrace and understand our neighbors who struggle and we must work hard to level the playing field so that those who through no fault of their own, have a realistic pathway forward to a life of dignity and respect.
All people, regardless of their birth status and or whatever cards have been dealt to them in their life’s journey, deserve quality affordable health care and a roof over their head that will keep them dry and safe. And yes, one job should be enough, and the minimum wage should be a living wage.
After all — There but for the grace of God, go I.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.