Why I Never Wrote That Story

Some time ago I set out to write about people who recovered from fatal diseases. The cliché is that they win wonderful insights about fundamental things, and emerge healthier, happier and wiser. Here’s how I got that idea, and why I never wrote the story.

I was in my porch-sitting days. After coming home from work and walking the dog, I’d perch in a plastic Adirondack chair, feet on another one, book in hand, watching the neighbors walk by. A husband and wife, in their 50s, I gauged, with whom I had a nodding acquaintance, walked by most every early evening, hand in hand, walking their dog. They looked far happier than I’d seen them before, and I’d been seeing them for years.

One evening, being a snoop by trade and inclination, I approached them and reintroduced myself and asked what their secret was. I’ll call them Paul and Ellen.

“I had cancer,” Paul said. “Three months of chemo. Lying on my back, I realized I’ve been a total asshole to my wife.”

“It’s true,” Ellen said, holding onto his elbow, beaming.

“And now you’re not an asshole anymore?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said, shaking his head.

“He’s not,” Ellen assured me.

“Well,” I said, “that’s great.”

I asked if I could talk to them at length, later, and they said of course, and continued their stroll with the dog.

The next guy I talked to was a popular columnist at the newspaper where I worked. He had just recovered from months of chemotherapy, emerging bald, skeletal, but alive.

“I think it made me a worse person,” he said.

How so?

“I’m short-tempered, nastier. I expect people to do what I want and get mad if they don’t.”

“So …”

We left it at that. We were both on the clock.

My third subject was an attorney whose cancerous prostate had been cut out of his body.

Patrick said he hadn’t learned “a goddam thing” from having cancer, and was worse off for it.

(By the way, six months after Paul and Ellen fell in love again, they divorced. Paul felt so good he went out catting around, and that was that.)

So is anything to be learned from this?

Yes, in an oblique way. It proved to me what I knew already, that anti-vaxxers are self-centered imbeciles, some of whom should be thrown in jail.

Stick with me now. Anti-vaxxers refuse to get their children vaccinated for dangerous, communicable diseases, such as polio, whooping cough and measles. Measles is not a one-week-and-you’re out. It can proceed to pneumonia, encephalitis and seizures.

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control reported that there had been no cases of measles in the United States for a year. This was before the rise of the disease of anti-social media on the internet.

In Southern California, a hotbed of anti-vaxxers, at least 160 children caught measles in 2015, probably in school, most likely from unvaccinated classmates.

New York today is suffering its worst measles outbreak in decades, at least 182 sick children, most of them in an Orthodox Jewish community that rejects vaccination. At least another 37 children are sick on Ocean County, New Jersey.

And in Portland, Oregon, and its cross-the-river county in Washington, 23 children have gotten measles in the past week, and the number is spiking. Need I tell you that most of them have not been vaccinated?

Let’s cut to the chase: The anti-vaxx movement is dominated by two cohorts, who in essence are one. One consists of extreme right-wing Republican ideologues who claim, as usual, that the federal government is using X (in this case, vaccination) to inure us to stifling federal control. Next they’ll come for our guns. And so on.

The second cohort are right-wing religious zealots, who claim the same as Cohort I, with the additional fillip that vaccination is immoral, because God created man in His image, and so on, so we dare not tinker with it.

I’d like to see what these nitwits do when they get a ruptured appendix. How would that change their view of God’s perfect vermiform appendix?

Enough. Everyone is entitled to think what they think they think. But when they demand that the federal government kowtow to what they think they think: that the government, the courts, and all of us, let them endanger other people’s children because of their ignorance, their presumption and imbecility, I say hold enough.

I say that parents who let their unvaccinated child into a public school, where he or she infects other children with a dangerous disease, should be prosecuted for child abuse, and if convicted, thrown into prison.

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