I write these reflections in mid-October 2004, several weeks before the U.S. presidential election. It is also some six weeks before the celebration of American Thanksgiving and even further removed from the Christmas liturgical season during which subscribers may be reading these lines and this issues articles and book reviews. The editorials early deadline explains the absence of musings about the significance of voting that has not yet taken place, and the omission of formal gratitude to God for blessings, national and cosmic, at the years end.
Here and now, it is difficult for citizens of the United States not to be preoccupied with the war in Iraq and the tragic loss of human life and property it has entailed. After an initial reluctance by the federal government to provide statistics of deaths among U.S. combatants during this ongoing military incursion, it has finally been admitted that over 1000 American military personnel have lost their lives in that occupied country. No figures have been provided for Iraqi deaths, including civilians, although surely the number is distressingly high.
A further underreported category only fleetingly released from time to time concerns U.S. casualties or injured estimated by some at 7000. It would be foolish to imagine that many of the injured have suffered only superficial wounds, the kind that are promptly healed through antibiotics and minimal medical intervention. In fact, the category includes some who have lost limbs, as well as persons permanently paralyzed or blinded. Just as there has been minimal TV coverage of the dead being shipped home for burial with military honors, so too there has been rare reporting of the severely injured transferred to veterans hospitals. These wounded men and women have paid dearly and their handicaps may be permanent. Even senior military officers have complained publicly that some of these injured have not been adequately compensated financially by their country.
At times such as these, it is important to acknowledge the remarkable cadre of medical personnel: doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, rehab therapists, and many other health professionals who serve the injured in military hospitals as well as in countless hospitals throughout the country. Anyone who has stayed in a medical facility even overnight understands the healing touch and professionalism of the dedicated women and men who stand ready day and night to assist the sick and wounded. As technological equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses has multiplied, so too have the skills of those who operate the machinery and watch over the needy. These medical persons are a proud sector of the heroes of our age. In the wake of bombings, shootings, and natural disasters such as hurricanes and fires, what would confinement be like without medical personnel and long-term caregivers to solace and cure in hospitals and clinics? Photographs of the overcrowded refugee camps in the Darfur region of Sudan or the flood-soaked streets of Haiti witness to the incomprehensible suffering that ensues without sufficient medical assistance.
One of the social scandals of our age is that, despite national wealth, prosperity, and medical know-how, some countries do not provide proper health care for the poor or even the middle class because of the lack of medical insurance coverage. The absence of health care is not due to the lack of dedication of medical teams, but to the reluctance of governments and private enterprises to allocate funding for these needs.
I would argue that theologians, church historians, ethicians, and biblical scholars–in their own way–provide analogous care to those in Church and society who are suffering pain, depression, and loss of hope. These persons also seek to diagnose, to piece together the causes of ills, to prescribe, and to suggest curative therapies. Articles in this last issue of the year 2004 reflect on various attitudes in the Church that have brought about maladies or deficiencies. Honest examination and consultation will hopefully contribute to healing and wellness.