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Land of the free?

How much is in your wallet?

By Mark GagnonPublished 5 months ago 3 min read
Land of the free?
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

A short time ago, one of my coworkers invited me to attend an online workshop designed to help people learn to speak or improve speaking a second language. She asked me to join her because she thought that my struggle with learning to spell, starting from kindergarten to the present day, might inspire people to continue with their quest to learn English. She felt that my being a published author is proof that language obstacles can be overcome. I was hesitant at first, unsure if my story had any real value to complete strangers, but in the end, decided I would give it a shot.

We work at a hotel and the management graciously allowed us the use of a small meeting room for free. After a few technical issues, we were broadcasting live to people from around the globe. I had expected ten or twelve participants, but at one point, we had over one hundred people joining in. Monique, our host, introduced me and filled everyone in on what I was there to talk about.

Scanning the profile pictures, I realized that, similar to Vocal, the age range of my audience was somewhere between the early twenties to early forties. Apparently, they were not used to seeing someone with gray hair at a session like this because one of them asked me my age. I had to laugh at the question because it told me the group was comfortable with me. My answer, “I’ll be seventy-three in January,” generated another question that required a much more in-depth answer. “If you are seventy-three, why are you still working?”

Although the question took me by surprise, I understood why it was asked. My wife is from England and her entire family still lives there. Some of my in-laws are younger than me and a few are older. In the UK and most of Western Europe, when a person reaches the country’s age of retirement, they stop working. You’ve paid your dues and now it’s time for some well-deserved payback.

Unlike the United States, medical care in Europe is free, or almost free. One of my brothers-in-law died of cancer several years ago. He was kept alive for an additional two years after his diagnosis by a drug that is so expensive the hospital wouldn’t prepare it until they knew he was on his way there. Total cost for all his treatments, zero. Had he lived in the States, he would have had to pay outrageous co-pays and his widow would have been left with a crushing debt to deal with.

Most industrialized countries give their senior citizens pensions similar to our Social Security. They also give them heating subsidies, public transit discounts, and a variety of other benefits. I’m sure there are a few of you thinking that sounds like Socialism, and you may be partially right. To those of you who feel that way, are you willing or able to care both physically and financially for an elderly family member? What good is creating a society that discards the very people who have toiled their entire life to support it just because they can no longer work?

I answered the lady’s question as succinctly and unbiasedly as possible. I explained that in the US we have a pension system called Social Security that sends pensioners a check every month. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, it’s not enough to live on. Some people have additional pensions from employers, while others have earned enough money to save a portion for retirement. Then there are those of us that never worked for a company that offered retirement benefits or made enough to save some for later in life. That’s why I’m still working. America is the land of the free, as long as you can pay for it.


About the Creator

Mark Gagnon

I have spent most of my life traveling around the US and the globe. Now it's time to draw on these experiences and create what I hope are interesting fictional stories. Only you, the reader, can tell me if I've achieved my goal.

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