PORTRAIT OF THREE PEARS AS A WORKER
Mary O’Brien was 13 years old when she began working in a New York City bakery in 1943.
At age 45, after 25 years of marriage and five children, Mary’s life changed and she became a primary wage earner and single parent.
Almost 30 years would pass before Mary Katherine would be able to retire.
Two years later she was still painting. And still working – ironically, at a Council on Aging, coordinating services for clients younger than herself. The sight of 72-year-old Mary and her shovel getting her latest old car started on a winter morning was an unsettling one. For months, she continued to chug through the snow out to distant suburbs, checking in with her often 65-year-old clients.
Finally, about four months before her 73rd birthday, Mary Katherine O’Brien cashed her last paycheck
Now 82 years old and living alone in the Boston area, Mary rises early every day to paint for at least several hours. Her work has been displayed and sold in a number of Boston area shows. More impressive has been her determined pursuit of health care services uncovered by Medicare, such as acupuncture and massage, for which she barters her paintings.
Mary has the same strong, healthy teeth that first popped out of her seven-year-old gums in 1937. And the dental profession has enough – as in enough, already – of her paintings.
Perhaps Justice will visit America again someday, and happen to bump into Art and Labor. If they do, the People will buy back all the paintings Mary gave up in exchange for her medical care – because that care was already owed to her. As every six-year-old in Costa Rica and France and Nigeria and Finland knows:
Health care is a basic human right.
I have deliberately limited Mary’s social identity (which is significantly expanded by other factors) to its definition for Congressional policy makers: as wage earner, tax payer, retired, elderly social security/Medicare/ food stamp recipient, occupant of HUD -subsidized housing. Combinations of this identity are shared by millions of diverse people, none of whom is anymore its representative than is Mary Katherine O’Brien.
Over the past five (at least) years, all of them were lumped together and targeted for ruthless, sustained attack by interests whose goal could have led nowhere other then essential destruction.
Those interests haven’t gone anywhere. They represent immeasurable wealth, and cannot be sent to their rooms. In fact, turn around: they are right behind you.
COSTA RICA IS ONE OF THE SMALLEST NATIONS IN LATIN AMERICA, AND ONE OF THE POOREST. YET IT PROVIDES UNIVERSAL FREE HEALTH SERVICES AT AN INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED HIGH LEVEL OF CARE.