by Terry Sterrenberg
I’m not sure when my life really began. There have been many times in the last 74 years when I have declared a date or event as the start of my life. That event is always a leap in time, like walking through a time gap where I emerge modified in some way and I experience life in a new way. One such time was in 2009 when my wife Laurie Simons and I decided to create “The Health Care Movie”. We were at a friend’s house for thanksgiving dinner and the discussion turned to healthcare. We talked about the differences in the Canadian and U.S. health care systems and the many misconceptions and lies that were being spread in the United States about the Canadian system. Someone said (I think it was me) “Someone should make a film for Americans about the Canadian health care system.” Our host said “Why don’t you do it?”
Laurie grew up in Canada and both our sons were born there. We had experience with the Canadian system. Then after living the first ten years of our marriage in Canada we came to the United States where much to our dismay we had to start paying health insurance. I began experiencing the gut wrenching choices Americans go through in wondering whether they have enough money in the bank to take their children to a hospital emergency room. In Canada this dilemma never occurred.
We had never created a movie like this before. Laurie had learned how to make films at Bellevue Community college but I felt like a complete amateur. A moment I will never forget occurred two years later at the film’s premiere in Edmonton Alberta when at the end of the film we received a standing ovation. It took my breath away. I’m still gasping for the breath of new life I knew that the film represented for me and many others.
I’ve learned a lot since then, mostly how naive I was. I truly thought that by showing true information, people and government would change their view of what they thought was correct and possible. I quickly learned that facts are not what changes people. Giving the facts about what is possible for U.S healthcare seemed to only make the resolve stronger that the U.S. was different than the rest of the world. Starting from the viewpoint of what is best for people and then finding a way to create that was turned into an idealistic utopian impossible dream. I learned that health insurance companies are like many (if not all) corporations. Their business is to make money. They cannot exist without profit. They pay people to help them make money rather than create a system that makes healthcare available to everyone. That is why insurance based systems will never be able to make health care universal. Universal Healthcare is not a financial problem. It is a moral problem. It is a dilemma of the heart not of financial scarcity. Economic systems can be created to allow all persons the medical treatment they require if the goodwill is present to do so.
The difficulties of creating a universal healthcare system mirror and demonstrate the heart dilemma present in the gross division and distrust that exist in the U.S. today. Heart dilemmas create broken hearts, pain, desperation and confusion. Heart dilemmas can also create visions, hope, sustenance and appreciation for others. For me the need for order, connection, and intimacy becomes primary. Only then does the gasping for air become the basis for new life. Only then am I able to see and feel the goodness that lies still around me in spite of the confusion that tries to fog it over. Only then do new trusting relationships emerge.
Every day I wake up wondering what is going on today that can make the world better. Sometimes I remember that “what that is” is going on all the time.