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King: Common humanity lost amid tragedy
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"He wanted to be part of something bigger than himself."

The woman was explaining to an NPR reporter why her brother joined the military. No, he didn’t die in battle but in a tragic shootout at Fort Hood on Nov. 5. We feel for the young man and his family. We all want to be part of something larger and more powerful than ourselves.

Later in the program, a different voice called for legislation to "... eliminate these dangerous cults," but the shooter at Fort Hood was not a cult member. He was a major in the U.S. Army, a psychiatrist and a Muslim, three callings that provide something "bigger" than the self: The military, the medical profession and religion.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was a man in conflict. He had to be, given the demands on his time and intellect. The military is conflicting.

They are peacekeepers, and they are killers. Psychiatry is conflicting as the practitioner struggles to maintain neutrality in the face of personal feelings. Religion is conflicting. Religion embraces a universal God but sets one man against another based on dogma.

However, there is something we all share that is bigger than any individual. We are all human. We are a single species, and the health and well-being any one individual is tied to the health and well-being of all, especially today in what is becoming a global village.

America honors the rugged individualist. Our heroes have been cowboys and self-made industrialists, but human survival has always depended on cooperation. In frontier days when a man’s barn burned, the community built him a new one. One helped his neighbor, not because he liked him, but because he needed him should his own barn burn. It was a form of insurance.

Today communities hold "a benefit" when one of their own faces horrendous medical bills, again a form of insurance. It is laudable, but not practical on a national level.

However, it illustrates the point I am trying to make. Life is always a gamble, but there is a way to balance the vicissitudes of fate. We help out even when we don’t know the individual personally. Our common humanity is bigger than any one of us.

Accident or illness can strike tomorrow, but we are not alone. We can make life easier for the unlucky — level the playing field, so to speak — by throwing our lot in with others. This is the principle behind any form of insurance.

This is why a majority of Americans back a single-payer plan when it comes to health care — if you hear otherwise, check the statistics — but this doesn’t mean we are of one mind when it comes to the details. We don’t have to be. We do have to find a way to bring everyone into the same system and take the big profit-makers out.

As I write this column, the memorial for the fallen, a mere handful of individuals, is taking place in Fort Hood. Meanwhile unknown thousands grieve. It won’t bring back the fallen, but it will comfort their families to know they are part of something larger than them selves.

So let’s get our priorities straight. Religion can comfort or it can lead to tragedy. The military can only offer limited protection.

Ultimately the human mind is a mystery, but we all live on the same earth under the same sun. We are in this together, and our nation will always be divided against itself until something as basic as health care is the birthright of all.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears every other Tuesday and on

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