On the eve of May Day, the Good Morning America website had a story of worker solidarity to tell, a story that’s been going around. Teachers in Alabama banded together to give up some of their personal sick days to be used by a colleague who’d run out of sick days of his own, and needed more.
The story, with video, under the program’s uplifting “Brightly” rubric, explained what was going on:
David Green’s daughter, Kinsley Green, was diagnosed with leukemia on Oct. 22, 2018, and has been undergoing chemotherapy for it. Kinsley’s mom, Megan Green, told “Good Morning America” that she wrote up a Facebook post asking other employees at Mae Jemison High School in Huntsville to donate their own time off after her husband officially ran out of sick days. After her post, David Green, 31, a history teacher and football coach, received a total of 110 days.
“Thank you for allowing us to be a family,” Megan Green, 29, told “GMA.” “Thank you for the little bit of normalcy these days have provided. Thank you for giving so selflessly. It honestly is a bigger blessing than I can put into words.”
These are the stories Americans share in the 21st century, traveling across social media in the guise of good news. It was only good news in the sense that it was the story of something that could have been worse—something, in this case, that would have been brutal and unconscionably cruel, and also normal in our country:
Megan Green said that without the sick days, David Green wouldn’t have been paid and therefore, the family would’ve lost their health insurance.
If not for all those individual acts of generosity, David Green would have had to give up on helping to care for his sick baby daughter himself, so that he would be able to pay for her medical treatment, without which she would have died. “Thank you,” Megan Green said, “for allowing us to be a family,” because being a family, under present conditions, is something people have learned that they have to be allowed to do, through the generosity of other people. If a person needs to take 22 weeks off work—or even eight weeks, which was reportedly the Greens’ modest original goal—to deal with a child’s life-and-death struggle, it is an official impossibility, requiring collective heroism to overcome.
Our notional democracy and our supposedly free choice of employment have produced a system where exploitation and neglect are the expected and ordinary nature of how things operate. This is our world now, the world of GoFundMes for the medical expenses the healthcare system won’t pay; of GoFundMes for the funeral expenses of mass murder victims; of spontaneously organized charity to try to fill in some of the voids left by the collapse of basic expectations.
The Brightly section is also well supplied with videos, barely contextualized, of surprise homecomings by people who’ve been deployed to our endless and unsuccessful foreign wars. A shouting, weeping mob of teenage boys envelops their coach and teacher, popping unexpectedly back into the classroom and into their lives, still in his war-fighting clothes, from a five-month deployment in some unspecified place, wherever the war might be now. What if the boys could just keep their teacher around, instead of having to worry about whether he was alive or dead? Why is going away for five months of war the normal course of business, while going away for two months of urgent family medical leave is an unacceptable disruption? What if instead of getting together for mutual private acts of kindness, the teachers and the community and Good Morning America all got together and demanded human dignity and decency as foundational working conditions for everyone?