These ‘Heartwarming’ Stories Aren’t Heartwarming, They’re Tragic
A couple of days ago, a story started making the news rounds. It was framed as one of those heartwarming stories about humanity coming through for someone in need. We all love those stories, right? We’ve read A LOT of them over the last couple of years. Teachers having their wish lists funded through the kindness of strangers. Families being showered with money to battle a terrible illness or circumstance. People coming to the aid of immigrant children being separated from their parents. People, for the most part, have stepped in when the system has failed. And yes, the stories are meant to invoke a feeling of pride in our fellow humankind. Sort of a, “See? Not everyone and everything is awful!” type thing.
But after I read the most recent “heartwarming” story I mentioned above, my heart was not warmed. A teacher in Florida who’s battling cancer ran out of sick days. So his colleagues donated theirs, so he could continue with his treatment FOR CANCER without living in fear that he would lose his job. Yes, I was brought to tears by the generosity of his fellow educators. And yes, I was beyond happy for Robert Goodman, the recipient of that generosity. But mostly, I was fucking angry. And disgusted. And disappointed. Mostly, it broke my heart.
Teachers can’t even get the time off for the fucking chemo they need to survive their battle with cancer. This system is broken beyond repair.
Robert Goodman is a public school teacher in Florida. He also has stage III colon cancer. Robert has a port in his chest, where he receives infusions of the chemotherapy that will hopefully kick the cancer’s ass and save his life. After his diagnosis, Robert quickly burned through his allotted sick days after surgery and chemo treatments. But he wasn’t done with chemo. What’s a desperate guy to do when you need 20 more days to fight for your life, but you don’t have even one more sick day to take? Well, in this great country, you beg for help on social media.
Robert needed 20 more days in order to qualify for a catastrophic leave of absence.
Within four days, Robert had more than enough donated sick days to complete his treatment and qualify for the leave of absence. Teachers, cafeteria workers, staff members, and administrators all stepped up and gave him some of their sick days. Robert, I should mention, has taught at the same high school for 23 years. He’s beloved by students and co-workers. This was never more evident than when he put out the call for help, and it was fulfilled so swiftly and with such grace by those who know him.
But getting lost in the beauty of this story is the real issue: a 23-year career teacher with stage III colon cancer had to beg for sick days in order to continue with his treatment. There’s something profoundly wrong with that. It’s an indictment of a deeply flawed system. Teachers (or anyone, fuck) should not have to worry about losing their jobs or ceasing their treatment because they don’t have enough sicks days. Parents should not have to BUY CARS FOR THEIR KIDS’ TEACHER, which is another “heartwarming” story we read in the last couple of weeks. For fuck’s sake, we don’t even pay teachers enough to buy themselves a goddamn car.
But these sorts of situations are not rare. It seems like everyday we hear a story about someone who can’t pay for health care or medical treatment or school supplies for their kids. Most of the time, other people step up.
Which is nice! It really is. It certainly bolsters my wavering faith in humanity from time to time. But when 1 out of 3 GoFundMe campaigns are for medical bills, we have a problem. When teachers need to beg for sick days or pencils or tissues for their classrooms, we have a problem. When people have to choose between paying rent and feeding their kids, we have a problem. And when our country and the system in place has failed its people so egregiously that they need to raise money for everything from a heart transplant to legal representation so they can sue to see the kids we ripped from their arms, we have a fucking problem.
The heartwarming stories are nice, for sure. And when I come across one after reading page after page of horrific news, they strike just the right chord. But goddamn it, I’m tired of reading them. Because deep down, they’re not heartwarming at all. They’re evidence of a country that has failed and continues to fail the very people that make it wonderful.