A Lifestyle Choice by Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt

(following a discussion on the net of the plight of unpaid carers)
Caring is ‘a lifestyle choice’, or so I’m being told;
as though we can choose if we grow sick or old
or when our hearts and minds give out
so that the steady ground beneath us falls away;
as if we can say, in advance of the event:
If such and such a trouble should occur,
here are the people whom the State should approach;
surely, one of them will choose to care.
Is then disability also a ‘choice’
in the busy, brash, I’m-Alright-Jack,
consumerist parlance of the day?
Pray silence, happy shoppers, for a buzz-word
from our sponsors who now bring you,
di-rect from the good ol’ US of A,
that fine nation of Walmarts and malls,
the privatisation of healthcare,
gentrification, the dispossession of the urban poor;
hate crime directed against those
most in need, inner city despair;
rigged unemployment figures, rigged polls,
rigged elections (if they can get away with it);
‘deals’ and ‘trade-offs’ in place of convictions,
the disintegration of the welfare state.
Just a minute now. Wait. Don’t interrupt me.
My question was purely rhetorical.
The truth is it’s clear that none of us can choose
how the worn thread of our lives might unravel;
for how shall we know when we are hale and strong
what afflictions may await us in the shadows.
There may be fear, loneliness, loss of hope;
even guilt and shame may abide there;
and who would choose for their life-
long companion even one of these?
Likewise who would choose,
were they not compelled to do so,
to make of themselves a burden to their lover,
to their partner, their wife, their husband, their brother,
their sister, their friend of long-standing,
to their ageing parents who soon, too soon,
must themselves grow feeble and die?
Who would choose to make a cross
of their pain and who would choose
to be their Simon were she (or he) not bound
by duty or anchored by the ties of shared blood?
Caring, they tell me, is a lifestyle choice.
Yet not to care is not an option, surely.
Show me those who, having so much more
than plenty, stand in judgement over those
whose lives are shrinking, whose tiny light
flickers and grows dimmer by the hour,
who must daily look for new ways to ‘make do’.
Show me them. Let them stand up in plain view.
Let us ask of them what is their solution –
if those who care with all their strength,
and patience, and all their open-heartedness,
should tomorrow, as this carping
would have it, cease to ‘choose’ to care?
What will they do, these penny-pinching pundits?
Will they then give freely of their time and their affections
to those whose ‘value’ is beyond their poor reckoning?
Who are these people? Let them make themselves known.
Let them show us what they truly are.
Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt was born into a working class home in Aveley in Essex but has lived most of her adult life in Cornwall, first in Redruth and now in Penzance. Formerly a teacher at Redruth Comprehensive School, she is delighted to be able to describe herself as a writer. She hates injustice and abuse of any kind and long ago resolved to speak out against them. She has been, on occasion, a victim of both.

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